By Anne Leader
Almost six years after it fell to the floor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Andrea della Robbia’s Saint Michael the Archangel is back on view, temporarily installed at a low height to allow visitors to admire its technical mastery. Randy Kennedy reports in the New York Times about the laborious process to repair the glazed terracotta relief and the lessons about the Della Robbia technique along the way. Invented by sculptor Luca della Robbia, the tin-glazing technique provided both protection from the elements and brilliant color, especially the signature blue-and-white combination used by his nephew Andrea for the St. Michael and several other pieces of Robbia-ware in the Met’s collection. Though never welcome, accidents like this and the more dramatic collapse in 2002 of the pedestal that held Tullio Lombardo’s Adam, offer rare insight into the working methods of pre-modern artists.
Andrea della Robbia (1435–1525) took charge of the wildly successful sculpture studio from his uncle Luca in the 1470s, growing the business into one that has made glazed terracotta recognized far and wide as one of the key contributions of Renaissance Florence.
Restorers at the Metropolitan Museum remounting the damaged right wing of a 15th-century terra-cotta relief of St. Michael, by Andrea della Robbia. Credit: David A. Sastre/Metropolitan Museum of Art
Andrea della Robbia, Saint Michael the Archangel, ca. 1475. Glazed terracotta; wood frame. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1960
The repaired lunette of St. Michael is temporarily displayed (April 2016) at a lower height at the Met Museum’s European Sculpture and Decorative Arts galleries, where it fell on 1 July 2008. Credit: Brian Harkin for The New York Times
Andrea della Robbia, Prudence, ca. 1475. Glazed terracotta. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1921
Andrea della Robbia, Virgin and Child, ca. 1470-5. Glazed terracotta. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Edith and Herbert Lehman Foundation Inc., 1969
Workshop of Andrea della Robbia, Virgin Adoring the Christ Child, after 1479. Glazed terracotta. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bequest of Adele L. Lehman, in memory of Arthur Lehman, 1965 (not on view)
Workshop of Andrea della Robbia, Madonna and Child and reverse side of relief, ca. 1480-90. Glazed terracotta. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (not on view)