ROBBIA, Luca della
(b. 1399/1400, Firenze, d. 1482, Firenze)


Marble, 328 x 560 cm
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence

After a political crisis and a ban on expenditures from 1428 to 1431, construction on Florence Cathedral resumed. The authorities ordered an organ loft, called a "cantoria" or singers' gallery, from a relatively unknown sculptor, Luca della Robbia, probably because Donatello and Michelozzo were in Rome. This is the first documented work by Luca. Originally above the door to the North Sacristy, it was dismantled in 1688, making reconstruction a problem.

The upper part, the gallery, resembles a Roman sarcophagus carried on consoles. The architectural setting, perhaps designed with Brunelleschi's advice, frames four reliefs on the front and one on each end. Four other reliefs between the five consols are cast in shadow. The ten reliefs with concerts of infants and adolescents playing a variety of instruments, singing and/or dancing illustrate Psalm 150.

Some reliefs are more deeply carved than others and documents indicate that extra work was required to make them legible from below. The movement evident in later reliefs shows the competition with Donatello, who returned in 1433 and was engaged on a pendant cantoria.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 9 minutes):
Josquin Desprez: Motet (Benedicta es coelorum Regina)