This exquisite painted and glazed terracotta Madonna with Child by Giovanni della Robbia is located in a marble tabernacle in the presbytery on the left of the entrance to the Church of San Michele in Volterra. It’s one of the most beautiful masterpieces to be seen in this fascinating Tuscan hilltop town.
La Chiesa de San Michele has a long history. There is reference to it in a 987 episcopal bull, but many of the art works contained within it date from 1259 through 1987 (when the church was restored and painted), though much of the work done during the 15 C and 16 C has disappeared.
The frescoes in this church are particularly noteworthy. The first altar to the right of the entrance is dedicated to the Madonna of the Redemption, and contains a fresco of Mary nursing the infant Jesus, a work from the 15 C surrounded by a canvas painted sometime in the mid-17 C by Guiseppe Arrighi, representing St. Luke, St. Anthony the Abbot, St. Giocanni di Matha and two redeemed slaves.
The Della Robbia family are, of course, famous for their painted terracotta work and this statue is a fine example of the work of the second generation of this talented family. Giovanni della Robbia (1469–1529) was the son of Andrea who in turn was the nephew of Luca who first popularised the use of painted terracotta in sculpture. Altarpieces made of glazed terracotta were more colourful, less expensive and easier to transport than similar sculptures in marble, and during the 15 C became widely used througout Tuscany.
More about the fascinating town of Volterra in Tuscany.