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Roundel - May; The Labours of the Months

May; The Labours of the Months

  • Object:

    Roundel

  • Place of origin:

    Florence, Italy (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1450-1456 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Luca della Robbia, born 1399 - died 1482 (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Blue, white and yellow tin-glazed terracotta

  • Museum number:

    7636-1861

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 64, case SS, shelf CEILING

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This is one of twelve roundels showing the Labours of the Months, which formed part of the ceiling decoration of the studietto (or little study) of the Florentine banker Piero de’ Medici. Though based in part on traditional medieval representations, some relate more closely to a text on agriculture by the 1st-century Spanish writer Columella.

The decoration was said to create ‘the greatest admiration in whoever enters the room’ and doubtless reminded Piero of country life at the family villas. The design of each roundel is based on contemporary agricultural practice as well as descriptions of agriculture in classical texts - one important source being Columella's De Re Rustica, a 1st century treatise that appears in Piero's inventory on 1465. The light and dark blue around the border indicate the periods of light and darkness. The hours of daylight are noted on the right. At the top of each tile is the sun in the appropriate house of the zodiac.
Recent restoration has revealed that the tiles were not round but square. Each has ribs along the back. These add strength to the tile, and also reduce the bulk of the clay to prevent problems in firing. The curve of each panel allows us to determine where it would have been placed within the barrel-vaulted ceiling.

The study that Piero de' Medici created in the family palace in Florence was a miniature treasury, famous throughout Italy. According to the architect and sculptor Filarete, 'the floor as well as the ceiling [was] enamelled with most worthy figures, so that whoever enters is filled with admiration'. These glazed terracotta scenes, which look like drawings on blue-prepared paper, formed part of the rich ceiling decoration. Luca's use of pigments and glazes to produce these unique works was an extraordinary technical achievement.

Physical description

Medallion or roundel, 'The Labours of the Months; May', blue, white and yellow tin-glazed terracotta. The roundel shows the labours of one of the twelve months, here May - a youth scything grass; with the sign of Gemini. The circular border is coloured dark and light blue to indicate the relative periods of light and darkness and has an inscription giving the number of daylight hours. At the top of the roundel is the Zodiac sign for Gemini, and opposite it a crescent moon. The roundel is bordered with a white leaf-moulding in low relief.

Place of Origin

Florence, Italy (made)

Date

ca. 1450-1456 (made)

Artist/maker

Luca della Robbia, born 1399 - died 1482 (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Blue, white and yellow tin-glazed terracotta

Dimensions

Height: 63 cm, Width: 59 cm, Depth: 9.5 cm, Weight: 22.3 kg

Object history note

This and the other roundels (7632-1861 to 7643-1861 / January-December) seem to have been commissioned from Luca della Robbia about 1450-56 to decorate the ceiling of the study of Piero de' Medici in the Palazzo Medici in Florence. This study was a miniature treasury, famous throughout Italy.

Historical context note

According to descriptions by Vasari and by architect and sculptor Filarete in his Treatise on Architecture, the floor of this room was also composed of glazed terracotta tiles. The room was destroyed in the course of the reconstruction of the palace after its sale (1659) to the Riccardi. From the axis of the curvature of the twelve roundels it may be inferred that the study of Piero de' Medici was a small room with a barrel vault some ten feet wide and sixteen feet long and that the roundels were set in three rows of four. According to Filarete, 'the floor as well as the ceiling [was] enamelled with most worthy figures, so that whoever enters is filled with admiration'.

Descriptive line

Roundel, 'The Labours of the Months - May', blue, white and yellow tin-glazed terracotta, by Luca della Robbia, Italy (Florence), ca.1450-56

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

Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1861 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. 11
Maclagan, Eric and Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture. Text. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1932, p. 33
Pope-Hennessy, John. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Volume I: Text. Eighth to Fifteenth Century. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1964, p. 109
Pope-Hennessy, John. Luca della Robbia. Oxford, 1980, pp. 42-5, 54, 240-2, col.pls. x-xiii, pls 63-71
Gentilini, Giancarlo. ed. I Della Robbia, La Scultura invetriata nel Rinascimento. Florence: 1992, illus. p. 64
Pianazza, Murielle. 'Giovan Pietro Campana Collezionista, Archeologo, Banchiere e il suo legame con Firenze', in Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, XXXVII (1993), 2/3, p. 452
Raggio, Olga. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Art Bulletin. Vol. L, 1968, p. 100

Materials

Terracotta

Techniques

Tin glazing

Subjects depicted

Trees; Moon; Youth; Grass; Spring; Seasons; Time; Scythes; Gemini

Categories

Ceramics; Sculpture

Collection code

SCP

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Qr_O93289
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