Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50a, The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery

The Blind Homer

Roundel
ca. 1520 - ca. 1525 (carved)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

The likenesses of famous persons from antiquity appeared on the outside of some Italian Renaissance buildings to show the owner's appreciation of classical learning. This roundel bears the head of Menander, an Athenian dramatist who died in about 290 BC and who was recognized as the supreme poet of Greek New Comedy. The known facts of Menander's life are few. He was allegedly rich and of good family, and a pupil of the philosopher Theophrastus. He produced his first play in 321 BC, and in 316 he won a festival prize with Dyscolus (“The Misanthrope”), the only one of his plays for which a complete text still exists. By the end of his career he had written more than 100 plays and had won eight victories at Athenian dramatic festivals.

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.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Additional titleMenander (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Polychrome tin-glazed terracotta
Brief description
Roundel, polychrome tin-glazed terracotta, Della Robbia ware, the Blind Homer, workshop of Giovanni della Robbia, (Italy) Florence, ca. 1520-1525
Physical description
Circular relief in polychrome tin-glazed terracotta. The roundel shows the head and shoulders of a bald man with heavily lined cheeks. He wears a toga knotted on his right breast, and his right shoulder is bare. The figure is in white on a blue ground. The roundel is framed with bead moulding and a circular border of fruits and flowers, enamelled in white, yellow, green, blue, purple and brown.
Dimensions
  • Diameter: 85cm
  • Publication depth: 25cm
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Gallery label
Classical 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.
Object history
Purchased in Florence from Mr Spence in 1864.
Historical context
This and the companion reliefs 369,370 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. Engravings of the building do not show any exterior 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.



The government of Athens commissioned a portrait statue of Menander at his death in about 290 B.C. Kephisodotos and Timarchos, leading sculptors of the time, created this statue, now lost, which stood in the Theater of Dionysos in Athens. Menander's plays, and in turn his portrait, experienced a resurgence of popularity with the Romans. More than sixty surviving Roman portraits depict a clean-shaven, lean-faced man with high cheekbones and a tall, rectangular forehead. For a long time scholars were not sure whom these portraits represented. Then a bust (now in the J.P.Getty Museum 72.AB.108), conveniently labelled with an inscription on the base identifying the subject as Menander, solved the scholarly dilemma. All these Roman portraits of Menander appear to derive from a common model, and stylistic features indicate that this model was the head of the statue made by Kephisodotos and Timarchos.

An Athenian dramatist, Menander has come to be recognized as the supreme poet of Greek New Comedy. The known facts of Menander's life are few. He was allegedly rich and of good family, and a pupil of the philosopher Theophrastus. He produced his first play in 321 BC, and in 316 he won a festival prize with Dyscolus (“The Misanthrope”), the only one of his plays for which a complete text still exists. By the end of his career he had written more than 100 plays and had won eight victories at Athenian dramatic festivals. Menander was considered by ancient critics the supreme poet of Greek New Comedy. He excelled at presenting characters such as stern fathers, young lovers, and intriguing slaves. As adapted by the Romans Plautus and Terence, his plays influenced the later development of Renaissance comedy.

In "The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy", Jacob Burckhardt records that the literary bequests of antiquity, Greek as well as Latin, were considered to be of great importance to Renaissance collectors such as Pope Nicholas V, Niccolo Niccoli and Lorenzo the Magnificent. Among the professional copyists those who understood Greek took the highest place. Their number was always limited, and the pay they received very large. The works themselves were in some cases held to be the springs of all knowledge. Urbino library compiled by Federigo Montefeltro 1422-1482 included the complete works of Menander.
Subject depicted
Summary
The likenesses of famous persons from antiquity appeared on the outside of some Italian Renaissance buildings to show the owner's appreciation of classical learning. This roundel bears the head of Menander, an Athenian dramatist who died in about 290 BC and who was recognized as the supreme poet of Greek New Comedy. The known facts of Menander's life are few. He was allegedly rich and of good family, and a pupil of the philosopher Theophrastus. He produced his first play in 321 BC, and in 316 he won a festival prize with Dyscolus (“The Misanthrope”), the only one of his plays for which a complete text still exists. By the end of his career he had written more than 100 plays and had won eight victories at Athenian dramatic festivals.



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.

Associated objects
Bibliographic references
  • Pope-Hennessy, J. assisted by Lightbrown, R. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum (HMSO, London, 1964) p.236 cat no. 240
  • 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
  • Beschi, Luigi. Le antichità di Lorenzo il Magnifico: caratteri e vicende. Gli Uffizi : quattro secoli di una galleria, Florence, 1982 p. 167
  • Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1864. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 27
Collection
Accession number
371-1864

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

Record createdFebruary 16, 2004
Record URL
Download as: JSONIIIF Manifest