Renaissance-Era Sculptures Are Coming to the MFA

It's your chance to see 500-year-old glazed terracotta masterpieces.

della robbia mfa

From left to right: Resurrection of Christ, Bust of a Young Boy, Prudence / Photos courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts

A total of 46 sculptures crafted during the Renaissance are coming to the Museum of Fine Arts this August.

The vibrant glazed terracotta masterpieces look almost exactly like they did more than 500 years ago. That’s thanks to the ingenious techniques of their creators, the Della Robbia family, whose workshop flourished in Florence for almost a century.

The MFA’s exhibition, called Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence, is the first major showing of Della Robbia sculptures in the United States.

In the 15th century, sculptor Luca della Robbia invented the glazing technique, passing it along to his nephew Andrea, and other family members whose work is showcased in the exhibit. Their sculptures shine in cerulean blues, opaque whites, and sunny yellows, depicting expressions of faith, hope, and love, both sacredly and secularly.

“Praised in its own day as ‘almost eternal,’ and seen as a new invention not known in antiquity, Luca della Robbia’s technique of glazed terracotta displays the creative ingenuity and graceful beauty that characterized the Renaissance and that continues to astonish and beguile us today,” said Marietta Cambareri in a statement. Cambareri, who organized the exhibition, is the curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture and the Jetskalina H. Phillips curator of Judaica, Art of Europe.

The sculptures range from Madonna and Child reliefs and large-scale figures to coats of arms and still-life compositions. Highlights include Andrea della Robbia’s colorful Prudence and Giovanni della Robbia’s Resurrection of Christ. Presented by the Brooklyn Museum after a year-long conservation effort in collaboration with the MFA, Resurrection of Christ once was displayed on a garden gate in the Tuscan villa of the Florentine Antinori family. The Antinoris commissioned the 11-foot-wide relief in the 16th-century—it dons the family’s coat of arms.

The Antinori family, now in its 26th generation, supported the conservation and restoration of Resurrection of Christ. Sisters Allegra, Alessia, and Albiera Antinori are all a part of the family’s wine business in Florence, where there’s a family crest created by Giovanni della Robbia in the early 1500s.

While the upcoming showing is the first major exhibition in the country dedicated to Della Robbia sculptures, it’s not the first time Boston has seen the family’s work. Della Robbia reproductions were widely produced in the 20th century and are easily recognizable if one knows where to look. Locally, a version of Luca della Robbia’s lunette of the Madonna and Child with Angels decorates the portal of St. Mary of the Assumption School in Brookline. Buildings part of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston’s Children’s Hospital also feature works by Andrea della Robbia depicting children.

Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence will be on view August 9 through December 4, 2016. For more information, visit