August thumbnail 1
August thumbnail 2
+3
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery

August

Roundel
ca. 1450-1456 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

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.

Object details

Categories
Object type
TitleAugust (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Tin-glazed terracotta
Brief description
Roundel, 'The Labours of the Twelve Months - August', blue, white and yellow tin-glazed terracotta, by Luca della Robbia, Italy (Florence), ca. 1450-56
Physical description
Roundel with an image of a farmer driving a small plough lead by two cattle. Blue, white and yellow tin-glazed terracotta.
Dimensions
  • Height: 61cm
  • Width: 59cm
  • Depth: 9cm
  • Weight: 18.8kg
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Style
Marks and inscriptions
DIES (left), ORE 13 1/2 (right), AVGVSTVS (base) (the border inscribed)
Gallery label
  • AUGUST from the Labours of the Months About 1450-6 Luca della Robbia (1399/1400-82) In August, a man guides a plough pulled by two oxen. The animals appear to be leaving the roundel, as the muzzle of the far ox just enters the edge of the border. The hard work contrasts with traditional courtly depictions of hunting with falcons in this month. Italy, Florence Tin-glazed terracotta (maiolica) Museum no. 7639-1861(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)
Object history
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. August shows the sun in the sign of Virgo and the labour of the month is represented by a man guiding a plough drawn by two oxen.

The roundels seem to have been commissioned from the Florentine sculptor Luca della Robbia between 1450-56 to decorate the ceiling of Piero de' Medici's study in the Palazzo Medici in Florence, destroyed during reconstruction of the palace in 1659. Piero, who was the father of the famous Lorenzo the Magnificent, owned an impressive library and amongst his classical texts was Columella's De Re Rustics ('On Agriculture') which may have inspired the choice of decoration. From the curvature of the twelve roundels it appears that Piero's study was a small barrel-vaulted room about 3 metres wide and 5 metres long and that the roundels were set in three rows of four, with August in the centre row along the apex of the vault.
Subjects depicted
Summary
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.
Associated objects
Bibliographic references
  • Paul Williamson, ed., European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London : V&A, 1996. p. 79, ill.
  • 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. 110, 111
  • Gentilini, Giancarlo. ed. I Della Robbia, La Scultura invetriata nel Rinascimento. Florence: 1992, illus. p. 109, pp. 110-111, p. 146 note 18, p. 161 note 37, p. 164 note 21.
  • 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.
  • Pope-Hennessy, John. Luca della Robbia. Oxford, 1980, pp. 42-45, 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.
Collection
Accession number
7639-1861

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Record createdNovember 14, 2002
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