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MFA's Della Robbia exhibit explores faith through sculpture


  • Three life-sized statues of St. Giovanni Capistrano, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Bernadine of Siena are on display at the 'Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence' exhibit at the MFA. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy
  • One of the focal pieces of the exhibit is the life sized sculpture ‘The Visitation’ by Luca della Robbia. (Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy)
  • A close up of the life sized sculpture ‘The Visitation’ by Luca della Robbia. (Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy)
  • Marietta Cambareri, senior curator of European Sculpture at the MFA, gestures to the relief ‘Resurrection of Christ,’ by Giovanni della Robbia during a tour of the exhibit Sept. 19. (Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy)
  • Text in the exhibit explains the theological virtue faith in Renaissance art. (Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy)

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BOSTON -- It all started with a sculpture in an attic.

Tucked away in a corner of the attic at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) sat a sculpture of St. John the Baptist, gifted to the museum by the late Mrs. Solomon Guggenheim. In 2003, when the museum embarked on a major building renovation, the attic was cleared and the sculpture surfaced.

St. John the Baptist "literally emerged from the attic," explained Marietta Cambareri, senior curator of European Sculpture at the MFA. Little was known of the terra cotta sculpture at the time. Looking for answers, Cambareri and museum conservator Abby Hykin, began a technical analysis of the piece. Their search sparked in Cambareri a desire to create an exhibit centered on a unique type of terra cotta sculpture created by the Della Robbia family in Florence.

"I guess you can say he (St. John the Baptist) was the beginning of this exhibit," she said.

"Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence," now on display at the MFA, is the first exhibit of its kind in the United States. Featuring 46 works of art by the Della Robbia family and associates, it highlights a groundbreaking glazing process invented by Luca Della Robbia at the turn of the 15th century that is known for its vibrant color.

"These sculptures are extraordinarily durable. The colors do not fade or change over time," Cambareri said. "Truly, they knew that these colors were going to endure the test of time."

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