Giovanni della Robbia (1469-1529) Italian, Florence, circa 1520-1525
- Tondo with the coat of arms of the Bartolini-Salimbeni family and their devices intertwined with the De' Medici diamond ring
- glazed terracotta
- 86cm., 33 7/8 in. diameter
20cm., 7¾in. deep
Over the course of more than 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 Tornabuoni. The family produced sculpture to adorn churches, the facades of Florentine palazzi, and for private devotion, as they had done since the founding of the studio by the pioneering Luca della Robbia (1399/1400- 1482). Luca’s nephew Andrea (1435-1525) took over the running of the workshop and expanded its production in the High Renaissance. The most distinguished of his sons, Giovanni della Robbia (1469-1529), continued this legacy with much success, introducing several innovations of his own to the workshop production.
The technique of using polychrome enamelled terracotta to create high relief sculptures like the present one, was conceived in imitation of ancient marbles. The popularity of these glazed terracottas, which could be produced relatively quickly and in sections for easy transport and assembly, kept the family enormously active from the early 15th century to and throughout the lifetime of the youngest of Andrea’s sons, Girolamo (1488-1566). Luca della Robbia first appropriated the form of a fluted medallion surrounded by a wreath of leaves on the underside his famous marble Cantoria in the 1430s. According to Gentilini (1998, op.cit., p. 64), the earliest use of such a heraldic tondo in glazed terracotta is the Stemma della Mercanzia on the Orsanmichele, Florence, from circa 1440-1445. The Pazzi chapel, the decoration of which is arguably the workshop’s most celebrated accomplishment, contains several simple foliate garlands framing medallions in glazed terracotta including the Pazzi family stemma in the celebrated dome. The demand for these eye-catching coats of arms proved insatiable. Andrea, and later Giovanni, therefore, continued to model such works for Tuscany’s foremost noble families.
The design of the present lot, with the copious wreath combined with classical egg-and-dart inner border and concave shell-form central section from which the arms project, was employed by several members of the Della Robbia dynasty. However, details such as the snail and lizard within the wreath are characteristic of tondi from the workshop of Giovanni della Robbia in particular. See for example, a tondo with the Medici stemma made in 1525 for the Ospedale del Ceppo, Pistoia (Marquand, 1919, op. cit., p. 269, no. 348) and another centred by the Tuscan shield with the rampant lion of Giannozzo di Piero Gianfigliazzi, and with a shell-form background, made in Giovanni's workshop in 1514 illustrated by Domestici (op. cit., cat. no. 39, p. 296).
Giovanni’s early works in collaboration with his father Andrea include a series of medallions in the Loggia of San Paolo made around 1493–1495. The first documented work for which he was individually contracted was the grand lavabo in Santa Maria Novella of 1497. His magnum opus is the frieze for the facade of the Ospedale del Ceppo at Pistoia which occupied him from 1425-1429. In the spandrels under the frieze one again encounters the garlanded coats of arms invented by his grand uncle.
Marquand and subsequent writers have suggested that Girolamo, Giovanni’s brother and collaborator, may have been the author of the abundant wreath of leaves, pinecones, fruit, lizards and frogs surrounding this bust. By 1518, however, Girolamo was receiving a royal stipend from King François I of France and worked for him at the Palace of Fontainebleau. After the death of the King in 1547, Girolamo returned to Florence. Twelve years later he resumed his work in France, working at the Château de Madrid and again at Fontainebleau. Subsequently he was employed to help execute the monuments of François II and Catherine de Médicis at Saint-Denis.
The Bartolini-Salimbeni family was at the heart of Florentine prosperity as the most important family of merchants in the city. It is said that the poppy emblem was added to the family heraldry because the ancestors of the Renaissance family members fortified wine with opium to trick foreign merchants into trading with them. Marquand recorded two further coats of arms associated with the family in his 1919 survey of the Della Robbia heraldry. A shield with the rampant lion in a wreath accompanied by a plaque inscribed with the name Bartolomeo di Lionardo Bartolini and dated 1494, from the workshop of Andrea, is in Castiglione Fiorentina (p. 116, fig. 98). In the Bargello we find the great Bartolini-Salimbeni and Medici stemma formerly on the Casa Bartolini-Salimbeni in Dicomano, which combines all of both families’ emblems and was recently attributed to Luca il Giovane (p. 279, fig. 201; Gentilini, 1998, op.cit., p. 65). According to Marquand the latter commemorates the wedding of Bartolommeo di Andrea de' Medici and Alessandra di Lionardo Bartolini-Salimbeni and the present may therefore have been made for a similar occasion. Another possibility is that it was part of the decoration of the Palazzo Bartolini-Salimbeni on the Via Tornabuoni in Florence, which was built between 1519 and 1523.
A. Marquand, Robbia heraldry, Princeton, 1919, p. 223, no. 284 and p. 269, no. 348; A. Marquand, Giovanni Della Robbia, Princeton, 1920, pp. 159-160, no. 162, fig. 98; F. Domestici, I Della Robbia a Pistoia, Florence, 1995, pl. CXVIII, pp. 255-296, no. 39; G. Gentilini (ed.), I Della Robbia e l’arte nuova della scultura invertriata, exh. cat. Basilica di Sant’ Alessandro, Fiesole, 1998, pp. 64-65; G. Gentilini, I Della Robbia. Il dialogo tra le Arti nel Rinascimento, exh. cat. Museo Statale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna, Arezzo, 2009