Luca della Robbia (1399/1400–1482) was an Italian sculptor from Florence, noted for his terra-cotta roundels.
Luca Della Robbia developed a pottery glaze that made his creations more durable in the outdoors and thus suitable for use on the exterior of buildings. His work is noted for its charm rather than the drama of the work of some of his contemporaries. Two of his famous works are The Nativity, circa 1460 and Madonna and Child, circa 1475. He is the first of a dynasty of important pottery artists: Andrea della Robbia (his nephew) and Giovanni della Robbia (his grandnephew, son of Andrea).
Della Robbia was praised by his compatriot Leon Battista Alberti for genius comparable to that of the sculptors Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, and the painter Masaccio. By ranking him with contemporary artists of this stature, Alberti reminds us of the interest and strength of Luca's work in marble and bronze, as well as in the terra-cottas always associated with his name.
There are no certain details of Luca della Robbia's youth, training, or early sculpture, and many of his most popular later works cannot be dated absolutely. He was born in Florence Italy.
His first documented commission, the Cantoria ("Singing Gallery"; 1431–1438) for the Cathedral of Florence proves that he must have been an accomplished artist long before joining the Sculptors Guild in 1432. The Singing Gallery shows children singing, dancing, and making music to "praise the Lord" in the words of Psalm 150. Their figures are at once lively, finely observed, and gracefully combined in groups designed to fit the ten panels of the gallery.
In the next two decades della Robbia executed important commissions in marble and bronze: a series of marble reliefs (1437) for the bell tower of the Cathedral of Florence; a marble and enameled terra-cotta tabernacle (1443), now in S. Maria in Peretola; bronze angels to enrich the Singing Gallery; and, in collaboration with Michelozzo, the large project of bronze doors for the Sacristy of the Cathedral. These doors were not finished until 1469; their reliance on a few figures placed in simple, orderly compositions against a flat ground, contrasts sharply with the elaborate pictorial effects of Lorenzo Ghiberti's more famous Baptistery doors.
His earliest surviving freestanding sculpture is the white tin-glazed terracotta Visitation in the church of San Giovanni Fuoricivitas of Pistoia, dating to 1445. Although the date of della Robbia's first work in colored glazed terra-cotta is not known, his control of this medium was clearly enough recognized to justify two major commissions for the duomo of Florence: the large reliefs of the Resurrection (also from 1445) and the Ascension of Christ (1446). The pliant medium of baked clay covered with a "slip" of vitrified lead and refined minerals permitted a lustrous, polished surface capable of reflecting light and using color that was beautifully appropriate for architectural sculpture. Whether animating the vast, somber space of the Cathedral or in the series Twelve Apostles gracing the pristine surfaces of the small Pazzi Chapel (1443–1450) in Florence, della Robbia's reliefs in this medium achieved a perfection never before or since attained.
Working with assistants, including members of his own family, della Robbia produced a number of decorative reliefs and altarpieces until the end of his life. One of the finest and richest examples is the enameled terra-cotta ceiling (1466) of the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal in S. Miniato, Florence.
Luca della Robbia died in Florence during February of 1483.