The Resurrection of Christ and the stylistic evolution of Giovanni della Robbia’s polychrome reliefs

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2017-05

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Zeng, Xiaoyu, M.A.

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Abstract

This research focuses on a polychrome glazed terracotta lunette depicting the Resurrection of Christ (c. 1524) to study the artistic practice of the Florentine sculptor Giovanni della Robbia (1469-1529). Upon close examination of this relief’s style, iconography, and patronage, my research suggests that it was possibly commissioned for the tympanum of the original Antinori Chapel that was destroyed in the seventeenth‐century reconstruction of San Michele Bertelde in Florence. To better contextualize the Resurrection of Christ in the sculptor’s oeuvre, this research also analyzes the style and patronage of a group of works produced under the supervision of Giovanni della Robbia between 1490 and 1529. I will argue that Giovanni’s works, though conventionally criticized as representing the “decline” of the Della Robbia school, should be re-evaluated in the context of the workshop’s market-oriented practice as well as the artist’s interest in the painterly use of polychrome glaze to achieve an idiosyncratically expressive and ornate pictorial style. The interactions of painterly and sculptural elements in his reliefs indicate strong influences from contemporary painting practices. I will further demonstrate that his stylistic versatility, a characteristic that likely propelled the popularity of his works among a diverse clientele, does not conform to a linear stylistic progression following the Vasarian biological metaphor. Dating the Resurrection of Christ and Giovanni’s other undocumented works on a purely stylistic basis therefore remains a risky endeavor. Studying this late Della Robbia lunette goes beyond rediscovering the artistic personality of the long overshadowed Giovanni della Robbia. It contributes to the reconstruction of a more nuanced understanding of early sixteenth‐century Florentine sculpture.

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