Luca della Robbia,
Bust of a Young Saint

In the Museum of Sacred Art of the Collegiate Church of San Lorenzo in Montevarchi there is a comparison between two members of the same family, which is also a comparison between a master and his young pupil. The bust of a young girl from the Bargello National Museum is a splendid example of glazed terracotta art. The work dates back to between 1465 and 1470 and critics have long discussed whether its paternity should be attributed to Luca della Robbia or the very young Andrea.

We are inclined to believe that Luca was the author of the bust that was originally placed in the pharmacy of the San Marco Convent in Florence. The inventories mention a “bust of a young woman”, but it is almost certainly a saint, this hypothesis being enforced by the hole on the top of the nape that was likely used to attach a halo. The bright yellow hair, unusual for the time, brings it near to other works by Luca della Robbia, such as, for example, the Coat-of-arms of the Physicians and pharmacists’ Guild in Orsanmichele in Florence or the Madonna Enthroned with Child in the San Marco Museum.

In the young saint we again find the refinement of line and the essential delicacy of the shaping inspired by classic models, which are well suited to represent a subject whose spiritual potential, with the strength of faith, appears through the direct gaze and the pure and resolute line of the neck. Only the well-modeled mouth endows this figure with a natural humanity, her purity being highlighted and symbolized through the purity of the enameled glazes (Caneva).

The comparison brought about by the Renaissance in Valdarno Exhibition is particularly interesting. As the curator Caterina Caneva suggests in the catalog “the comparison between the different expressions of the family’s founder, Luca, at the end of the sixth decade, and those of his successor Andrea, about forty years later” stands out. But two different typologies of works are also compared, both successfully carried out by the Della Robbias: the small-sized work, concentrated in its simple grace, and the “monumental” work that, at the same time, adorns and defines an entire architectonic structure.

Luca della Robbia, Bust of a Young Saint; polychrome glazed terracotta; 40 x 40 cm. Florence, Bargello National Museum