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Roundel - Classical female head
  • Classical female head
    Robbia, Giovanni della, born 1469
  • Enlarge image

Classical female head

  • Object:

    Roundel

  • Place of origin:

    Florence (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1520 - ca. 1525 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Robbia, Giovanni della, born 1469 (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Polychrome tin-glazed terracotta with a bust in high relief

  • Museum number:

    370-1864

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50a, The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery, case WS

This roundel and two others (Mus. No. 371 and 372-1864), together with one with triple heads (369-1864), was stated on acquisition to have come from the Palazzo Guadagni, Florence. It cannot be assumed that they necessarily were from this palace, which contained a large collection of works of art, but the subject matter suggests that they were intended for a palace or villa. The roundels can be compared to a series of busts of Saints, Prophets, Apostles and other religious figures by Giovanni della Robbia in the Certosa (Charterhouse) di Galluzzo, near Florence (1523), which are set into the spandrels of the cloister arcade. They were probably designed for a similar setting.

The Della Robbia family was an Italian family of sculptors and potters. They were active in Florence from the early 15th century and elsewhere in Italy and France well into the 16th. Family members were traditionally employed in the textile industry, and their name derives from rubia tinctorum, a red dye.
Luca della Robbia founded the family sculpture workshop in Florence and was regarded by contemporaries as a leading artistic innovator, comparable to Donatello and Masaccio. The influence of antique art and his characteristic liveliness and charm are evident in such works as the marble singing-gallery for Florence Cathedral. He is credited with the invention of the tin-glazed terracotta sculpture for which the family became well known. Giovanni della Robbia (1469 - ca. 1529) was one of three of the sons of Andrea della Robbia (1435-1525) to enter his father's workshop. He received his own commissions from 1497 and increasingly took over the running of the workshop. He was heir to the famous workshop in Florence and had the task of renewing its famous production to accord with changing tastes as directed by contemporary painting.

Physical description

Circular relief in polychrome tin-glazed terracotta. The roundel shows the head and shoulders of a woman with white hair parted in the centre and gathered up behind. The figure is in white on a blue ground. The roundel is framed in bead moulding and a circular border of fruit and flowers, enamelled in white, yellow, green, blue, purple and brown.

Place of Origin

Florence (made)

Date

ca. 1520 - ca. 1525 (made)

Artist/maker

Robbia, Giovanni della, born 1469 (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Polychrome tin-glazed terracotta with a bust in high relief

Dimensions

Diameter: 85.5 cm, Depth: 25 cm

Object history note

Purchased in Florence - vendor not recorded - for £70.

Historical context note

This and the companion reliefs 369, 371 and 372-1864 were stated on acquisition to have come from the Palazzo Guadagni, Florence. It cannot be assumed that they were necessarily made for this palace,which contained a large number of works of art. The Palazzo Guadagni now the Palazzo Dufour Berte is situated on the Piazza Santo Spirito. Though not one of the more well known Florentine Palazzi, it became a model for many other Florentine houses such as Palazzo Ginori and the Palazo Niccolini. The architect who built the palace in about 1505 has not been definitely established though the names of Cronaca and Baccio d'Agnolo have been proposed, with the former considered the more likely. A nineteenth century engraving by Durand portrays the facade of the palace and shows no indication of roundels or evidence of roundels having been present. According to J Shearman's biography of Andrea del Sarto the entire facade was painted by the artist and a photograph of the facade which shows the work purportedly by del Sarto though heavily restored leaves no room for the placement of roundels.
This roundel with the three previously mentioned companions, are ascribed by Cavallucci and Molinier (Les Della Robbia, Paris, 1884, p.268, Nos.389-92) to the shop of Giovanni della Robbia. This designation is retained by Maclagan and Longhurst (p.76). All four roundels are ignored by Marquand. They are compared by Maclagan and Longhurst with the busts of Saints by Giovanni della Robbia in the Certosa di Galluzzo, and the date of these busts (1523) affords a general indication of the probable date of the present reliefs. All four roundels apparently represent figures from antiquity, and Pope-Hennessy proposes that five of the six heads derive from classical originals. The frames of 370, 371 and 372-1864 appear to have been made from the same mould.
The majority of works produced in the workshop of Giovanni della Robbia concentrate on religious themes, however roundels depicting the cardinal virtues, figures from the classical past and portrait busts were also produced. The bust roundels of the Certosa are set in the spandrels of the arcade which surrounds the large cloister. The present roundel would have originally been located high up on a facade probably one of a series set within spandrels.

Dr Mairi Calcraft has suggested in an article held by the Browning Institute, New York, that this roundel inspired the bust in Robert Browning's poem "The Statue and the Bust". The poem recounts a legend that a woman who watched her love from a window each day found herself unable to act on her passions; this "idleness which aspires to strive" was then (according to the legend) immortalised in Giambologna's equestrian statue of Ferdinand de Medici - riding past the window of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. In the poem Browning conceives a bust of a woman placed high up on the palace wall to look down on the equestrian statue. In a letter to Edmund Yates, Browning relates that there are niches in the palace wall where a bust might have been placed "and if not why not". It is possible therefore that Browning had the present bust in mind, but clearly the position on the wall of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi was imagined.
A photograph of the bust now in the British Museum belonged to a biographer of Browning and is entitled 'The Statue and the Bust". A letter in the British library from the biographer to Browning suggests that the bust is that which features in the poem. Browning's reply to the letter has been lost and no evidence confirming the connection is known.

The three verses which feature a bust are as follows:

Let Robbia's craft so apt and strange
arrest the remains of young and fair,
and rivet them while the seasons range.

But long ere Robbia's cornice, fine
With flowers and fruits which leaves enlance,
was set where now is the empty shrine

And leaning out in bright blue space,
As a ghost might lean from a chink of sky,
The passionate pale lady's face

Descriptive line

Roundel, circular relief in polychrome tin-glazed terracotta, with a classical female head, workshop of Giovanni della Robbia, Florence, ca. 1520-25

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Pope-Hennessy, J., assisted by Lightbrown, R. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, (HMSO, London, 1964), p.236, cat. no. 239
Maclagan, E. and Longhurst, M. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture, (London, 1932), p. 76
Marquand, A.Giovanni della Robbia, (Princeton University Press, 1920), p.167, cat. no. 172
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1864 In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 27
Beschi, Luigi, 'Le Antichita di Lorenzo il Magnifico: caratteri e vicende', In: Gli Uffizi, Quattro secoli di una galleria, Florence, 1982, p. 167

Labels and date

Classiscal Female head 370-1864, Menander 371-1864, The Blind Homer 372-1864

Tin-glazed terracotta
WORKSHOP OF GIOVANNI DELLA ROBBIA (1469-1529/30)
ITALIAN (Florence); about 1520-1525

These three roundels, together with one with triple heads (369-1864 exhibited on the opposite wall), were stated on acquisition to have come from the Palazzo Guadagni, Florence. It cannot be asumed that they necessarily were from this palace, which contained a large collection of works of art, but the subject matter suggests that they were intended for a palace or villa. The two identifiable busts represent the bearded Greek poet Homer, and playright, Menander. Homer was traditionally believed to be blind ; he is represented here in the form known as "the blind Homer". The roundels can be compared to a series of busts of Saints, Prophets, Apostles and other religious figures by Giovanni della Robbia in the Certosa (Charterhouse) di Galluzzo, near florence (1523), which are set ino the spandrels of the cloister arcade. They were probably designed for a similar setting. []

Materials

Terracotta

Techniques

Enamelling; High relief

Subjects depicted

Garland; Bust; Woman; Fruit; Bead moldings

Categories

Sculpture; Portraits; Medallions

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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