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Lives of the Great Painters
Vasari's Luca della Robbia

Luca della Robbia was born in Florence, and was put by his father to learn the goldsmith's trade. But having made trial of his skill in some things in marble and bronze, he gave himself up entirely to sculpture, modelling by day and drawing by night, with such earnestness that many times when his feet were chilled with cold at night, rather than give up his drawing, he would put them into a basket of shavings to warm them. He was scarcely fifteen years of age when he was taken to Rimini to work with other sculptori on the monument which Sigismondo di Pandolfo Malatesti was raising to his wife. He was called back, however, to work on the campanile of S. Maria del Fiore, and was afterwards, at the request of Vieri de' Medici, a very popular citizen who loved him much, entrusted with the marble ornaments of the organ. In this work he represented the choristers singing and although it was sixteen braccia from the ground, he worked it with great care. Donatello, however, who made the ornaments of the organ opposite, worked with more judgment and experience, leaving it rougher and less finished, so that it appeared better at a distance than Luca's.

But after he had finished these and other works for the cathedral, upon reckoning up how much he had received and the time he had spent upon it, and seeing that the profit was very little and the fatigue very great, he resolved to let marble and bronze alone, and see if he could not earn more in some other way. And considering that working in clay was easy, he set himself to find a way by which it might be defended from the injuries of time. And after many experiments he found a way of covering it with a glaze by which it was made almost eternal. And not being satisfied at having made an invention so useful, especially for damp places, he added a method by which he could give it colour, to the marvel and great pleasure of every one. The fame of these works soon spread not only through Italy, but through all Europe, and the demand was so great that the Florentine merchants kept him continually at work and sent them all over the world. Not being able to supply them as fast as they required, he took his brothers away from the chisel and set them to the work, and they made much more by it than they had ever done before. If he had lived longer, no doubt greater works would have issued from his hands, but death, which carries off the best, took him away.

After his death there were left his brothers, Ottaviano and Agostino, and of the same family was Andrea, who died in 1528. I remember talking to him when I was a boy, and hearing him say he had helped to carry Donatello to the grave, and I remember the good old man seemed to take much pride in the recollection. Andrea left two sons, Luca and Girolamo, who devoted themselves to sculpture. Of these two Luca specially applied himself to the glazed works. But when they died not only was their family extinct, but the art itself was lost, for although some have since professed to practise it, none have ever arrived at the excellence of old Luca or Andrea or any others of that family.


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