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Materials and Techniques of Della Robbia Sculpture

The Italian term terracotta (“cooked earth”) refers to objects produced by sculpting clay and then firing it in a kiln at high temperatures to harden the material. During the Renaissance, terracotta was believed to be the oldest form of sculpture, invented in the ancient world. Luca della Robbia perfected the technique of coating terracotta in durable, colorful glazes that fused with the clay below and lent the surface a particular brightness and shine. His younger contemporary Leonardo da Vinci praised these glazes, seeing the method as a way for painting to achieve the permanence of sculpture. The characteristic look of Della Robbia terracottas was described by the 19th-century writer Walter Pater: “I suppose nothing brings the real air of a Tuscan town so vividly to mind as those pieces of pale blue and white earthenware . . . like fragments of the milky sky itself, fallen into the cool streets, and breaking into the darkened churches.”

For a closer look, click the images below.