Lot 107
  • 107

Giovanni della Robbia (circa 1469-1529/30) and workshop Italian, Florence, early 16th century

250,000 - 450,000 USD
281,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Tondo with a bust of a young woman
  • glazed terracotta
  • diameter 37 1/2  in., 95 cm.


The Davanzati Palace sale, American Art Association, November 21, 1916, lot 115
William Boyce Thomas
Property from the Alder Manor Collection, Christie's New York, January 11, 1994, lot 7
Collection of Carlo De Carlo, Semenzato, Venice, December 14, 2000, lot 116


Alan Marquand, Giovanni Della Robbia, New York, 1920, pp. 159-160, fig. 162

Catalogue Note


Alan Marquand, Giovanni Della Robbia, Princeton, 1920 , pp. 159-160, no. 162, fig. 98
John Pope-Hennessy, Luca della Robbia, Oxford, 1980
F. Domestici, I Della Robbia a Pistoia, Florence, 1995, pl. CXVIII, cat. no. 39, pp. 255 and 296
Giancarlo Gentilini (cur.), I Della Robbia e l’”arte nuova” della scultura invertriata, exh. cat.,  May 19 - November 1, 1998, Basilica di Sant’ Alessandro, Fiesole
Giancarlo Gentilini, I Della Robbia Il dialogo tra le Arti nel Rinascimento, Museo Statela d’Arte Medievale e Moderna, exh. cat.,  Arezzo,  February  12–  June 7, 2009

The present tondo is a quintessential work of the Italian Renaissance. Incorporating the bust of a young woman, encircled by a copious fruiting and flowering wreath, this sculpture was well known to major scholars of della Robbia sculpture, including Alan Marquand, who established the attribution to Giovanni della Robbia in 1920. Over the course of nearly a century, the della Robbia family enjoyed the sustained patronage of both the church and a great number of noble families, including the Medici, the Pazzi and the Tournabuoni. The family produced sculpture to adorn churches and the facades of Florentine palazzi, and for private devotion, as they had done since the founding of the studio by Giovanni’s famous, pioneering grand uncle, Luca della Robbia (1399/1400- 1482) .Giovanni, the most distinguished of Andrea della Robbia’s (1435-1525) sons, took over the running of the workshop after his father’s death.

Giovanni’s early works in collaboration with his father include a series of medallions in the Loggia of San Paolo (1493–95). His first documented work for which he was individually contracted was a grand lavabo in Santa Maria Novella (1497). The present bust bears close affinity to Giovanni’s Madonna in the lunette surmounting his Santa Maria Novella lavabo (Gentilini 1998, op. cit., p. 248) and the high relief male and female busts within roundels in the Chiostro dei Monaci, Certosa del Galuzzo (1523) (Gentilini 1998, op. cit., pp. 270-272) (figs. 2 and 3). They share a milky white surface, a broad face often framed by defined and undulating locks of hair, a strong chin, a distinctive and classical nose with a planar bridge, eyes with a brown colored pupil and iris that merge into one, and a characteristic linear brow.

The technique of using polychrome enameled terracotta, the medium for which the family was famously known, to create high relief sculptures like the present one, was concieved in imitation of ancient marbles. The format of a portrait bust within a medallion originates with the bronze portrait heads emerging from trefoil frames on the corners of Luca della Robbia's doors for the North Sacristy of the Florence Cathedral (Pope-Hennessy, op. cit., p. 112). The popularity of these glazed terracottas kept the family enormously active from the early 15th century throughout Giovanni’s younger brother, Girolamo’s (1488-1566), lifetime.

Marquand and subsequent writers have suggested that Girolamo, Giovanni’s brother, may have been the author of the abundant wreath of leaves, pinecones, fruit, lizards and frogs surrounding this bust. By 1518, Girolamo was receiving a royal stipend from Francois I, for whom he worked at Fontainbleau. After the death of the king  in 1547, Girolamo returned to Florence, but some years later (1559) he resumed his work at the Château de Madrid and at Fontainebleau and was employed on the monuments of Francios II and Catherine de Médici at Saint-Denis. To reflect a more classical taste, Giovanni's work showed a return to an almost all-white palette, departing from the more colorful work that he would produce later in his life.

The Palazzo Davanzati was erected in the second half of the 14th century by the Davizzi family, who were wealthy members of the wool guild. In 1516 the palazzo was sold to the Bartolini and, in 1578, it was sold to the Davanzati family, also rich merchants, who owned it until 1838. After escaping the numerous demolitions in the 19th century, the palazzo was purchased by Elia Volpi, an antiquarian, who restored it in the original style. Volpi eventually sold much of the contents, including the present tondo, at a public auction in New York in 1916.

William Boyce Thompson (1886-1930), a millionaire and art collector, subsequently purchased the della Robbia tondo for his home called Alder Manor in Yonkers, New York. The mansion was designed by Carrère and Hastings, who were simultaneously building the Frick mansion in Manhattan.