Analysis of Virgin and Child with Lilies by Luca Della Robbia

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Yun Zhang
Renaissance Art in Context
Dec.13th. 2012
FA231 Professor Stephanie Leone

Virgin and child with lilies
Italian (Florence)
about 1460–70
Luca della Robbia 


Overall: 48 x 38cm (18 7/8 x 14 15/16in.)

Glazed terracotta 


Classification: Sculpture


Type: Relief


Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Virgin and child with lilies
Italian (Florence)
about 1460–70
Luca della Robbia 


Overall: 48 x 38cm (18 7/8 x 14 15/16in.)

Glazed terracotta 


Classification: Sculpture


Type: Relief


Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In this artwork attributed to Luca della Robbia made in 1460-70, Virgin and Child with lilies depicts Mary as the mother of God, instead of the queen in heaven, and emphasized the maternal side of Virgin and the human nature side of Christ. As one of the most popular devotional subject, it conveys the purity and virgin statues of Mary through symbolic pattern such as lilies and a suggestion of Virgin Mary’s perpetual virginity through the annunciation angels, which Virgin Mary born Christ the child without sin, to present the holy spirit of Virgin Mary and, therefore, evoke devotions to Virgin Mary. In addition, when comparing to Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna in the Ognissanti Church in Florence, this relief shows us a shift towards naturalism in its depicting of Virgin and child, as well as presenting of space and colors, which fits into Vasari’s description of an naturalism art development trend. Finally, due to the size of the artwork, I suggest this piece of work was for domestic use, instead of for public devotion in churches. I also suggest it might was made to hang exteriorly on the wall near a garden due to its durable characteristic of terracotta and the subject depicted as Virgin and Child in nature.

First to start with, art always mattered in the Renaissance. Viewers expected the subject to be meaningful, purposeful and functional, not just for pure aesthetic pleasure. In the textbook, we see a photograph of Museo Bardini of an interior showing plaster and stucco casts of Virgin and Child reliefs, just like the relief we are looking at by Robbia. This kind of Virgin and Child relief was mass-produced and became the most popular devotional subject to hang in public churches as well as in domestic homes during Renaissance period. In this relief, Robbia sculpted Virgin and Child in a naturalistic way and depicts the two as a mother and son relationship, which Mary is the mother of God, instead of the queen in heaven. It emphasized the maternal side of the Virgin as well as the human nature side of the Christ. The relief is clearly composed in three parts: the earthy ground, the Virgin and Child with lilies and the three angels emerged from the cloud. The main characters, which are the Virgin and the Child, occupy the majority space of the artwork, was depicted as mother-son relationship. By setting up Virgin and Child in the background of an earthly world, Robbia sculpted the two with verisimilitude that reflects a worldly mother and son would look like. For example, the Virgin’s right leg and Christ the child’s left leg are both projecting out with a realistic foreshortening. The tight fist of Christ the child grasping the lilies and Virgin’s stable grasps of Christ are well-formed and realistic to nature. The draperies, especially the part under Virgin’s right leg, are finely depicted with verisimilitude, which it tailor the shape of the body instead of repetitive lines with a same direction. Although Virgin is fully covered in robe, we can easily tell where her feet are positioned as well as her legs and arms. Christ the child in nude is clearly perceived in a typical baby’s anatomy, which all muscles are not well developed with a soft and baby-fat touch. Christ’s belly is also slightly distorted, which realistically matches his twisted posture by curiously reaching to the lilies, just like most of the worldly babies do. In order to hold the Virgin and Child...
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