Luca Della Robbia’s Cantorial Pulpits: a dance of praise
Luca Della Robbia (1400-1482) “graduated” as sculptor on September 10, 1432: that was the day he was accepted in the guild of Florence’s Master stonemasons and wood-carvers. Before that, he had specialized in goldsmithing, gained expertise in creating models and drawing, and studied terracotta, mosaic and glass. He had associated himself with great masters, such as Nanni di Banco and Donatello – meeting his friend, Brunelleschi, in the latter’s workshop.
His entrance in the Florentine guild happened as he received the first order of which we have trace for a sculpture: the cantorial pulpits for the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower, built between 1431 and 1438, now on display at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Works of the Cathedral).
Over one century later, in his “Lives”, Giorgio Vasari wrote that those “singing galleries for the choristers were made with zeal and keen mastery”, and that “some singing figures”, despite their distance from the viewer, show “a distended throat in the act of breathing, or the tension in the shoulders of those holding the score”.
The young people represented in the bas-reliefs happily dance and sing, with “ancient rhythmic simplicity” – in the words of art critic Roberto Longhi. They dance in step with the words of the Old Testament’s Psalm 150: “Praise the Lord […] with the sound of the trumpet; / Praise Him with the lute and harp! / Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; / Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! / Praise Him with loud cymbals; / Praise Him with clashing cymbals!”
Let’s follow them, in their dance and in their smile.