Sculpture Journal

Luca della Robbia: South Kensington and the Victorian revival of a Florentine sculptor

Sculpture Journal (2014), 23, (2), 171–183.

Abstract

In Britain, over the course of the nineteenth century, Luca della Robbia arose from the forgotten realms of early Italian sculpture to become known, in the words of John Pope-Hennessy, ‘the most popular sculptor of the fifteenth century’. At the same time, an initially ‘chromophobic’ and anti-Renaissance Ruskin, who, in 1845, had referred to Luca's polychrome reliefs as ‘signpost barbarisms’, gradually became so enamoured with the sculptor's work that, in 1880, he installed his very own della Robbia relief in the study at Brantwood. The della Robbia acquisitions at the South Kensington Museum in the 1850s, and the Ruskinian rhetoric used to describe them in the catalogues produced by curator John Charles Robinson, firmly reintroduced Luca into subsequent Victorian scholarship concerning the Italian Renaissance period. But to what extent did the South Kensington Museum contribute to both Luca's Victorian revival and Ruskin's change of heart?

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Author details

Drew, Charlotte