Pino and I recently headed with son Keegan and his wife, Francesca, to the charming Tuscan village of Santa Fiora (population about 2600), clinging to the southern slope of the extinct volcano, Monte Amiata now draped in forests of beech and chestnut trees.
The town’s brochure aptly describes the charm of Santa Fiora: “The vestige of a castle – with what’s left of its walls, woes and fortifciations – appears, as if from nothing, at the foot of an ancient extinct volcano at the heart of a forest of chestnuts that almost seem as if they’re protecting it. The town enchants with its stone structures, its dilapidated walls, its narrow and shadowy alleyways, the lush landscape around it…..”
As we arrived, posters on a the protective barrier of a restoration site announced the event drawing us that day to Santa Fiora: the homecoming in Santa Fiora of a splendid Luca della Robbia glazed terracotta Madonna and Child image:
In the mid-16th-century, Vasari lauded the glazed terracotta masterpieces of Luca della Robbia and school as “nuova, utile e bellisssima” (“new, useful and most beautiful”). Giorgio Vasari, creator of the genre of the encyclopedia of artists’ biographies, astutely predicted that Della Robbia’s masterpieces would procure him “gloria e lode immortale e perpetua” (“glory and immortal and perpetual praise”).
Astoundingly, three Santa Flora religious edifices house mid-15th-c. Della Robbia splendors, bringing the artist (and his nephew, Andrea) well-deserved “glory and immortal and perpetual praise.”
We headed first to see the Madonna di Santa Fiora, enthroned in city hall (palazzo municipale), on loan to the town for just two weeks.
Sold by the city at the end of the 19th-century to a wealthy Belgian mining engineer (and art collector), the Della Robbia Madonna and Child was later purchased by the Buffalo (New York) Albright-Knox Art Gallery in 1962 and then auctioned at Sotheby’s and sold for just over $2 million.
Futile attempts had been made by the Santa Fiora citizens to find benefectors to unite in purchasing at the auction and bring it back to the town.
Fortunatamente, a Brazilian billionaire and his wife now own the beloved Madonna enshrined in their Tuscan home (not far from Montalcino) and have loaned the glazed masterpiece to Santa Fiora for this two-week show.
Keegan and Francesca paused to read the display inside offering abundant information on the art work before one arrives at the Della Robbia masterpiece:.
….and Pino read too, flanked by another visitor:
Arriving finalmente at the glazed terracotta splendor, art historian Francesca admired in silent reflection:
…..as did Pino:
As we headed down the stairs on our way out of the palazzo municipale, I looked out the window, noting the elegant immense palazzo across the piazza: Palazzo Sforza-Cesarini.
That magnifico palazzo is linked to that glazed terracotta Della Robbia splendor we had just viewed, for the Madonna with Child had probably been commissioned from Della Robbia by a Sforza count.
Wandering the winding medieval Santa Fiora backstreets…
…we headed to the Pieve delle Sante Lucilla e Fiora in our search for other Della Robbia wonders:
Inside the church (dating from the 12th-century), glazed terracotta splendors of Andrea della Robbia and school – created between 1464 e il 1490 – enhance the simplicity of the Romanesque-Gothic church.
His Madonna della Cintola reigns over the reliquary bearing relics of the Saints Lucilla and Fiora
In the image, the seated Madonna lowers her cintola – knotted textile cord belt – to doubting San Tommaso flanked by Santa Lucilla, holding the palm (symbol of martyrdom) and gazing up at la Madonna. The cintola was a medieval symbol of chastity as well as a symbol of protection for expectant mothers. St. Thomas Apostle, had been skeptical about Christ’s resurrection and missed the Virgin’s Assumption into Heaven due to his travels in India.
St. Francis of Assisi is on the right, gazing up at the Assumption, holding a cross and flanked by a pious John the Baptist, hands folded in prayer as he, too, gazes upward.
Various images of Christ’s life adorn la predella (the border at the base), including the mourning of the Virgin, Mary Magdalene and many of the Apostles, united in painful sorrow around the deceased Christ:
Our San Francesco of Assisi appears in another Andrea Della Robbia gem in the Pieve: receiving the stigmata on Mount La Verna in 1224. San Francesco flanks the Incoronation of the Virgin by her Son, Christ and is opposite hermit saint, Saint Jerome.
Do note the apples intertwined with other fruits and plants running along the cornice above…..
….for the apples are a symbol of the Della Robbia sponsor, the Sforza family:
Numerous Andrea Della Robbia splendors adorn this simple 12th-century church of Santa Fiora, drawing many a visitor…
…and his masterpieces are not just in this Santa Fiora church.
On our next trip there, we’ll continue to follow “the Della Robbia trail,” seeking his other Renaissance glazed terracotta gems in this Tuscan gem, Santa Fiora.
*****Do see my video on that Luca della Robbia splendor in Santa Fiora.
Read about the most recent purchase of the Della Robbia Madonna and Child (once in Santa Fiora)
Read more about the Sotheby auction and purchase of the Della Robbia – and not only
Click here for more on the Della Robbia ending up at Sotheby auction.
Read about our past visit to Santa Fiora.
Read about porcini mushrooms starring in Santa Fiora.