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Roundel - October
  • October
    della Robbia, Luca, born 1399 - died 1482
  • Enlarge image

October

  • Object:

    Roundel

  • Place of origin:

    Florence (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1450-1456 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tin-glazed terracotta

  • Museum number:

    7641-1861

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery, case SS, shelf CEILING

This is one of twelve roundels showing the Labours of the Months, which formed part of the ceiling decoration of the studiolo (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; October', blue, white and yellow tin-glazed terracotta. The roundel shows the labours of one of the twelve months, here October - a youth sowing corn; with the sign of Scorpio. 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 Scorpio, and opposite it a crescent moon. The roundel is bordered with a white leaf-moulding in low relief.

Place of Origin

Florence (made)

Date

ca. 1450-1456 (made)

Artist/maker

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

Materials and Techniques

Tin-glazed terracotta

Marks and inscriptions

DIES (left), ORE 10 1/2 (right), OCTVBER (base)

Dimensions

Height: 62 cm, Width: 61 cm, Depth: 10 cm, Weight: 24 kg

Object history note

The roundel is one of a series of 12 showing the Labours of the Months. Each scene is set within a circular border coloured light and dark blue to indicate the period of light and darkness relevant to the month and with an inscription giving the number of daylight hours. At the top of each roundel is the sun in the appropriate House of the Zodiac and opposite it the crescent moon.
This and the other roundels 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 - October', blue, white and yellow tin-glazed terracotta, by Luca della Robbia, Italy (Florence), about 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. 12
Maclagan, Eric and Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture. Text. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1932, p. 34.
Pope-Hennessy, John, assisted by Lightbown, Ronald, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: HMSO 1964 (3 volumes), vol. 1, p. 111.
Pope-Hennessy, John. Luca della Robbia, Oxford, 1980, pp. 42-5, 54, 240-2, col. pls. x-xiii, pls. 63-71.
Raggio, Olga, 'Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum', in Art Bulletin. Vol. L, 1968, p. 100.
Pianazza, Murielle, 'Giovan Pietro Campana Collezionista, Archeologo, Banchiere e il suo legame con Firenze', in Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, vol. XXXVII (1993), 2/3, p. 452.

Labels and date

OCTOBER from the Labours of the Months
About 1450-6
Luca della Robbia (1399/1400-82)

This roundel shows a young man sowing wheat, the traditional activity for the month of October. The white highlights and active lines of his long curly hair and pleated tunic make them appear to be moving in the wind as he walks through the field. Scorpio is shown above the sun.

Italy, Florence

Tin-glazed terracotta (maiolica)

Museum no. 7641-1861 [2008]
THE LABOURS OF THE MONTHS from Piero de' Medici's study

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. [2008]
SIX ROUNDELS with the Labours of the Months

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 i Piero's inventory of 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. [2008]

Materials

Terracotta

Techniques

Tin glazing

Subjects depicted

Scorpio; Corn; Seeds; Seasons; Baskets; Youth; Moon; Autumn; Time; Trees

Categories

Sculpture; Ceramics

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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