The Archangel holds a sword, signifying his leadership of the holy army and defeat of Satan, and scales, used to weigh the souls of the deceased to determine their fate. The artist’s expressive rendering of four faces (including that of the blessed soul and two masks decorating the armor) crescendos to Saint Michael’s peaceful countenance radiating compassion. A restrained palette of blue and white highlights the refined modeling and was favored especially by Andrea’s uncle, Luca della Robbia, who invented this technique of glazing earthenware. This relief was made to decorate the facade of a church in Faenza consecrated to Saint Michael. The divine figure’s appeal to the viewer, who would have passed beneath it to enter the place of worship, is enhanced by its extension in front of the classical egg-and-dart molding. In 2008 the relief was damaged in a fall. Its subsequent restoration shed light on how the sculpture, originally composed of twelve interlocking sections, was made.
Count Benevento Pasalini dell'Onda (until 1872; to Vitalini) ; Cav. Ortensio Vitalini (from 1872) ; Angiolini, Bologna (in 1875; sold to Vieweg) ; Heinrich Vieweg (1875–1930; sale, Rudolph Lepke's Kunst-auctions-haus, Berlin, March 18, 1930, no. 65; to Seligmann, Rey & Co.); [ Arnold Seligmann, Rey and Company, New York , 1930; sold to Taylor ] ; Myron C. Taylor , New York (1930–60; sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, November 11–12, 1960, no. 899; sold to MMA)