In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Luca della Robbia (or the Della Robbia Family)

  • Introduction
  • Andrea della Robbia
  • Sons of Andrea della Robbia
  • Benedetto and Santi Buglioni
  • Collecting, Connoisseurship, and Criticism of the Della Robbia

Art History Luca della Robbia (or the Della Robbia Family)
Catherine Kupiec
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0155


Florentine sculptor Luca della Robbia (b. 1399/1400–d. 1482) is best remembered as the inventor of a popular new form of glazed terracotta sculpture and as founder of the flourishing family workshop that produced it for roughly a century. He has long ranked among the greatest artists of the early Florentine Renaissance: tellingly, Leon Battista Alberti celebrated him as one of five exceptional modern artists in the dedication to his 1436 treatise On painting (Della pittura), alongside Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Masaccio. Luca was a consummate craftsman, praised by writers during and after his lifetime for his activity in marble, bronze, terracotta, and even goldsmithery. Modern scholarship on the artist is substantial and has consistently sounded two notes, celebrating his exemplary classicizing style and recognizing that the story of his artistic success is also, simultaneously, that of a new sculptural medium. While the exact details of its initial development (accomplished by the year 1441) remain unknown, Luca’s glazed terracotta art soon attracted eminent patrons, such as Piero de’ Medici, and was praised by contemporaries as an invention. In the tradition of artistic family dynasties, Luca passed the secrets of his new art to his nephew, Andrea della Robbia (b. 1435–d. 1525), who succeeded him as head of the workshop. Andrea conducted a brisk business in glazed sculpture and taught the family craft to five of his sons: Marco (Fra Mattia, b. 1468–d. 1534), Giovanni (b. 1469–d. 1529/1530), Luca “il giovane” (b. 1475–d. 1548), Francesco (Fra Ambrogio, b. 1477–d. 1527/1528), and Girolamo (b. 1488–d. 1566). Andrea and Giovanni are the best-studied among these artists, while the others long suffered from general neglect owing to their geographically disperse activity and a perception that production quality fell with the later generations. Similarly under-studied are two final artists who made glazed sculptures: the Florentine Benedetto Buglioni (b. 1459/1460–d. 1521), who likely trained under Andrea and opened his own shop around 1480, and his adopted ward, Santi Buglioni (b. 1494–d. 1576). Recent scholarship has illuminated the ongoing efforts of the later artists in both families to integrate workshop traditions forged under Luca with new contexts and artistic innovations, all while serving patrons ranging from Franciscan friars to King François I of France.

The Della Robbia and Buglioni Workshops

Much new research on the Della Robbia and Buglioni has explored the workshops as larger entities, in part to offset a longstanding imbalance toward Luca in earlier literature. Both shops are indeed the dynamic legacy of Luca, their progenitor, and thus the present section concerns them generally. Scholars face a daunting task in accounting for this material. It encompasses the energetic output of nine principal sculptors—and doubtless many assistants—spread across three generations, and active for the better part of two centuries. The output of these artists represents nearly every conceivable sculptural form: devotional reliefs, altarpieces, architectural decoration, tombs, statuettes, baptismal fonts, portraits, ceilings, and even flat tile “paintings.” Collectively, they demonstrate wide mastery of the materials of Renaissance sculpture, from glazed and cold-painted terracotta to wood, marble, and bronze. Finally, their geographic reach is formidable. Luca operated exclusively out of Florence but sent sculpture abroad as early as 1454, and later artists in both families worked outside Tuscany, in the Papal States (including the Marches) and even in France. In sum, any overview of this subject must account for a diversity of artistic personalities and media set within a broad chronological and geographical context.

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