ROBBIA, Luca della
(b. 1399/1400, Firenze, d. 1482, Firenze)
Florentine sculptor, the most famous member of a family of artists. Nothing is known of his early career, and he was a mature artist by the time of his first documented work — a Cantoria (Singing Gallery, 1431-38) for Florence Cathedral, now in the Cathedral Museum. It is a work of considerable originality as well as enormous charm, antedating by a year or two the companion gallery by Donatello (now also in the Cathedral Museum). Its marble reliefs of angels and children singing, dancing, and making music reflect antique prototypes, but conceived in a more cheerful, less heroic spirit than Donatello's figures.
In his own time Luca had the reputation of being one of the leaders of the modern (i.e. Renaissance) style, comparable to Donatello and Ghiberti in sculpture and Masaccio in painting, but he is now remembered mainly for his development of coloured, glazed terracotta as a sculptural medium — in particular for his highly popular invention of the type of the half-length Madonna and Child in white on a blue ground.
The family workshop seems to have kept the technical formula a secret and it became the basis of a flourishing business; among the major works by Luca in the medium are the roundels of Apostles (c. 1444) in Brunelleschi's Pazzi Chapel in Santa Croce. Luca's business was carried on by his nephew Andrea, and later by Andrea's five sons, of whom Giovanni was the most important. The famous roundels of infants on the façade of the Foundling Hospital in Florence (1463-66) were probably made by Andrea. His successors tended to sentimentalize Luca's warm humanity, and in course of time the artists' studio became a potters' workshop-industry.