By Alicia Marie LaTore
Honor’s Thesis, Wheaton College, 2009
Introduction: The Renaissance saw many developments in how clay was treated and finished, primarily with the invention of maiolica, or tin glazing. The surface treatment of clay is especially important in that it affects the use and the look of the ceramic object: glaze (a vitreous surface covering the clay) renders the ceramic object non-porous and thus able to hold liquid, while pigments on the surface of the clay add color and decoration to the object. Tin glazing allowed for brighter and purer colors to be utilized as pigments were added to the glaze, which allowed ceramic objects to acquire aestheticizing qualities and still hold utilitarian purposes.
Luca della Robbia furthered the aesthetic value of tin glazed clay past surface decoration by applying the glaze to sculptural forms. Scholars such as Giorgio Vasari have argued that Luca della Robbia was the inventor of tin glazing and, as such, he could be considered the father of maiolica. Other scholars, such as Guiseppe Liverani have argued that Luca della Robbia was completely detached from maiolica, as della Robbia’s works were sculptures and maiolica vessels typically functioned as decorative arts. Modern scholars, such as W.D. Kingery, have compared the chemistry of typical maiolica wares with della Robbia wares to differentiate the types of production. In this work I propose that Luca della Robbia was in fact an artist, with all the intellectual qualities implied by this term. In order to present Luca della Robbia’s position as an artist, I compare his work to that of maiolica artisans working in Northern Italian workshops.