Prudence, Andrea della Robbia (Italian, 1435–1525), Glazed terracotta, Italian, Florence


Andrea della Robbia (Italian, 1435–1525)
ca. 1475
Italian, Florence
Glazed terracotta
Overall (confirmed): 64 3/4 in., 920 lb. (164.5 cm, 417.3 kg)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1921
Accession Number:
Not on view
Its large scale, bold design, and brilliant colors indicate that this roundel of Prudence was designed to be visible from a distance. The existence of three related roundels by Andrea della Robbia of other virtues —  Faith (Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon), Temperance, and Justice (both Musée National de la Renaissance, Château d’Écouen) —  ​suggests that the group was once part of or intended to be part of a ceiling or wall decoration. The model for such a program would have been Luca della Robbia’s allegorical virtues of 1461 – 62 on the ceiling of the chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal at the church of San Miniato al Monte, Florence.[2] There, a domed ceiling centers on a glazed terracotta roundel of the Holy Ghost, which is surrounded by roundels of the four cardinal virtues that touch it at equidistant points. Overlapping half circles fill the borders, while a pattern of superimposed cubes forms the background for the dome around the roundels.

Although represented facing right and different in detail, Luca’s Prudence at San Miniato was certainly the inspiration for the Museum’s virtue. Andrea trained with his uncle Luca and worked under him at San Miniato.[ 3] In both roundels a three-quarters-length figure with a young woman’s head backed by an old man’s face holds up a mirror in one hand and a snake in the other, both traditional attributes of this virtue. One telling difference is the juncture between the young woman and the old man: in Luca’s Prudence the young woman’s hair covers her forehead naturally and streams into the man’s beard; Andrea’s Prudence has a bald pate, affirming the bizarre hybrid that she is. The San Miniato virtues are all winged, while the Museum’s Prudence and its related roundels Faith and Temperance are not; only the Justice has wings. Because of this and slight differences in dimensions, scholars have questioned whether the Justice was in fact part of the same series.[4] The borders of the two series also vary, the one geometrical, the other composed of swags of fruit and foliage.

Luca della Robbia’s first documented use of glazed terracotta for relief decoration —  a commission for the church of Sant’Egidio in Florence, of 1441 – ​43 —  inspired a wave of followers, particularly members of his own extended family. John Pope-Hennessy has argued that what most attracted Luca initially to the medium was neither the inexpensive nature of clay nor the durability that glazing afforded but the potential of color to clarify compositions in large architectural interiors.[5] The close relationships between the Della Robbia artists often make it difficult to distinguish the work of individual family members. The Museum’s Prudence was, in fact, first published by Allan Marquand in 1912 as the work of Luca. Marquand further proposed that the series to which it belongs was intended but not used for the spandrels of the Pazzi Chapel at the church of Santa Croce, Florence (1445 – ca. 1470), where Luca and his workshop created tondi of Apostles and Evangelists to harmonize with Filippo Brunelleschi’s serene architecture.[6] Subsequent scholars followed this attribution until 1980, when Pope-Hennessy made a convincing case for Andrea as the responsible artist. [7] For Pope-Hennessy, Prudence was less rhythmical than its foretype in San Miniato, and all the figures of the series seemed more rigid than Luca’s known work. He also rejected the idea that the series to which the Museum’s Prudence belongs could ever have been destined for the Pazzi Chapel. It may also be noted that the exuberant swags of fruit, extensively used by Andrea throughout his career, would have been inconsistent with the simple travertine borders of Brunelleschi’s Pazzi Chapel design. Generally, Andrea tended to add complexity and decorative notes to compositions that Luca would have kept simple. Prudence’s additional layers of drapery and fussily wrinkled sleeves are sure signs of Andrea’s sensibility. Pope-Hennessy also pronounced the closed eyes of Temperance in the present series a stylistic mannerism of Andrea’s, and he related the structure of the backgrounds to one of Andrea’s greatest works, the roundels depicting foundling infants on the loggia of the Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence (ca. 1487).

Andrea’s practice grew ever larger and the scale of his altarpieces greater and more complex. While the lush sculptural border of the Museum’s Prudence would have appealed to Florentines in the last quarter of the fifteenth century, the graceful gestures and pure silhouette of the central figure recall the artist’s point of departure in his uncle’s work at midcentury.

[Ian Wardropper. European Sculpture, 1400–1900, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2011, no. 7, pp. 30–33.]


[1] Tim Knox. "Edward Cheney of Badger Hall: A Forgotten Collector of Italian Sculpture." Sculpture Journal 16, no. 1 (2007), pp. 5–20, p. 14.

[2] On the ceiling of the chapel, see John Pope-Hennessy. Luca della Robbia. Ithaca, N.Y., 1980, pp. 244 – 45, no. 14.

[3] Giancarlo Gentilini. "Robbia, della. 1: Luca (di Simone) della Simone." In The Dictionary of Art, edited by Jane Turner, vol. 26, pp. 442–44. London, 1996, p. 444.

[4] Allan Marquand. "On Some Recently Discovered Works by Luca della Robbia." American Journal of Archaeology 16, no. 2 (April-June 1912), pp. 163–74, pp. 169 – 74, first proposed that its larger size, lighter background, and winged figure signaled a different commission. Pope-Hennessy 1980, p. 271, no. 72, agreed with Marquand’s analysis.

[5] Pope-Hennessy 1980, chap. 4, "The Transition to Enamelled Terracotta," pp. 33 – 41.

[6] Marquand 1912, pp. 169 – 74.

[7] Pope-Hennessy 1980, p. 271, under no. 72. Already in 1948 Leo Planiscig had called the related Temperance a collaboration between Luca and Andrea; Leo Planiscig. Luca della Robbia. Florence, 1948, p. 55.
Castellani-Valbreque (sold to Cheney) ; Edward Cheney (d. 1884) ; his nephew, Alfred Capel-Cure (until 1896) ; his nephew, Francis Capel-Cure , Badger Hall (1896–1905; sale, Christie's, London, May 4, 1905, no. 122; sold to Harding); H. W. Harding (from 1905) ; Godefroy Brauer ; [ Raoul Heilbronner , Paris (until 1914, when he fled to Germany, abandoning his collection ]; [ confiscated and auctioned by the French government at Galerie Georges Petit , Paris, June 22, 1921, no. 141; sold to Seligmann ] ; [ Jacques Seligmann and Company, Paris (in 1921; sold to MMA) ]