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Thursday, June 1 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Research & Technical Studies) Sculpting in color: the innovative glazes of the della Robbias and followers in Renaissance Florence

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The Florentine sculptor Luca della Robbia began to develop and perfect an innovative glazing technique for terracotta sculpture around the middle of the 15th century. Building on these experiments, the della Robbia family workshop produced glazed terracotta reliefs over the next century that were highly popular and widely admired. A rival workshop was established by Benedetto Buglioni, and some other artists also produced sculptures that featured bright, opaque glazes inspired by the della Robbias. In association with two special exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, including the recent "Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence" (August 9-December 4, 2016), the glazes from nearly two dozen sculptures by the della Robbias and followers have been studied over the past ten years. An early 20th century reproduction by the Florentine Catagalli workshop has also been studied. Although the majority of the studied objects are from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, several are from other American collections.The research has involved extensive collaboration with the MFA's curator of European decorative arts and conservators at the MFA and other institutions. Sculptures from all generations within the della Robbia workshop have been included as well as several from the Buglioni workshop. This research, mainly carried out by examination of cross sections by scanning electron microscopy/energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry (SEM/EDS), adds to the previously-published body of work by scientists in France and Italy. The European researchers have studied ceramic bodies and glazes, utilizing various analytical techniques. The work carried out at the MFA combined with the European research provides many insights into the nature of the della Robbias' innovations and the variations with their workshop; the research also makes it possible to examine relationships between the work of the della Robbias and that of other artists inspired by them. The della Robbias' techniques did not involve new materials, as their glazes have many affinities with those of contemporary majolica objects, but instead represent a focus on certain combinations of the raw materials that were carefully developed to produce particularly bold opaque colors made to carefully fit the underlying ceramic bodies on which they applied, so firing often produced no significant cracking in the glazes. This paper briefly summarizes previously published work and highlights findings from the unpublished work at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The paper provides scientific analysis on objects that are the subject of several treatment-related papers submitted to the Objects Specialty Group.

avatar for Richard Newman

Richard Newman

Head of Scientific Research, Museum of Fine Arts
Richard Newman is Head of Scientific Research at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he has worked as Research Scientist since 1986. He holds a B.A. in Art History, M.A. in Geology and completed a three-year apprenticeship in conservation science at the Center for Conservation... Read More →

avatar for Abigail Hykin

Abigail Hykin

Conservator, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Abigail Hykin is Conservator of Objects at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Besides work on Della Robbia sculpture, her recent projects have included the treatment of a 12th century Chinese sculpture, Guanyin, Bodhisattva of Compassion and Nishida Jun’s massive ceramic Zetsu No... Read More →

Thursday June 1, 2017 11:00am - 11:30am CDT
Regency D Ballroom Level, West Tower