Modeling Devotion: Terracotta Sculpture of the Italian Renaissance Opens
February 25 - May 23, 2010
In Italy during the Renaissance (around 1400 to 1600), an innovative form of sculpture was developed using fine clay that was modeled before being fired in a kiln. Called terracotta in Italian (meaning baked earth), this type of sculpture has often been overlooked in favor of sculpture carved in marble or cast in bronze. Clay can be handled easily with material added, removed, or textured as required. This freedom allowed artists to capture fine details and emotional expression. Moreover, terracotta sculpture of the Renaissance was almost always painted or glazed in naturalistic colors. Figures were often life-sized, three-dimensional, and fully colored, giving terracotta sculpture a remarkable immediacy. For large works, separate figures were often fired separately and then assembled. In both religious scenes meant to inspire the faithful, as well as in portraits that recorded individual likeness, the naturalism of colored terracotta works conveyed emotions with great power. Isabella Gardner acquired several terracotta sculptures, including large multi-figured compositions.