5 October 2006 -
7 January 2007

At Home in Renaissance Italy

Exhibition Highlights

The Labours of the Months: April

Luca della Robbia
About 1450-6, Florence
Enamelled terracotta with gold leaf highlights

Originally a family of bankers, from the 1430s the Medici became the unofficial rulers of Florence. This is one of the twelve enamelled terracotta tiles once decorating the vaulted ceiling of the study of the Medici palace, a small room filled with treasures. In the study, said a contemporary visitor, 'the floor as well as the ceiling was enamelled with most worthy figures, so that whoever enters it is filled with admiration. The master of this enamelling was Luca della Robbia'. The twelve tiles were a unique artistic and technological feat. They used mostly the same pigments as tin-glazed earthenware for the table, but the richer enamel provided a more opaque, intense colour. They were fired twice and their unusual size caused several cracks.

The activities depicted for each month largely correspond to medieval tradition. They also follow a 1st-century agricultural treatise owned by Piero, Columella's De re rustica. The borders show the influence of the astrological signs of the zodiac and how much daylight there would be in every month. January, for example, depicts a bearded man felling trees with the sign of Aquarius, while September shows a youth gathering grapes with the sign of Libra. Here, for the month of April, a youth is training vines on a trellis, with the sign of Taurus. The green and purple-red at the corners, and the white of the borders, correspond to Piero’s personal colours.

The twelve tiles have undergone extensive conservation for this exhibition and they will be installed in a barrel vaulted ceiling for the first time, evoking their original context. Beneath, an outstanding selection of treasures originally forming part of the Medici study collections will be displayed.

"Then we go into the triumphal and luxurious study,
covered with intarsia and paintings
in perspective and sublimely worked
with a great mastery of architecture.
There are many ornately decorated books
and vases of alabaster and chalcedony
mounted on gold and silver.
And everything there is beautiful and fine,
brought to complete perfection
by nature and by human intellect."
From a poem describing the Medici Palace (anonymous, 1459)

Anonymous, Terze Rime

The Labours of the Months: April Enlarge

V&A: 7632 to 7643-1861

Click on the images above for more information and an enlargement.