The Choirs by Luca della Robbia and Donatello, two unique masterpieces of the Florentine Renaissance.
The two works represent the reason why the Opera Duomo Museum hosting them came into being. The two Choirs are exhibited in a room which evokes the presbytery of the Cathedral.
If you visited the Opera Duomo Museum, you certainly entered the Sala delle Cantorie, where the two major masterpieces of the collection are preserved. What you may not know is that the two Choirs represent the core of the Museum, as the Museum was born in order to give them a proper place, and around them it developed. Let’s start from the beginning…
The name cantoria designates the marble balcony aimed at hosting the choir in charge of the liturgical music; the balcony is generally located near the organ of the church. Being both functional and aesthetical at the same time, the cantoria was commissioned to great artists such as Luca della Robbia and Donatello. Back to the 1400 the Duomo Opera was rushing in order to complete the inner and outer decorations of the Cathedral in time for its consecration. Among such decorations were the two Choirs, meant to be placed over the sacristies doors. Luca della Robbia was charged with the realization of the Choir for the door of the Sacrestia delle Messe, which involved him from 1431 to 1438, while Donatello was charged with the realization of the other Choir for the Sacrestia dei Canonici, realized between 1433 and 1439.
The two masterpieces differ from each other in terms of style and approach to the assigned themes. Luca della Robbia followed the psalm 150 " Laudate Dominum" to represent various groups of children whose dancing, singing and playing is rendered with the grace typical of Renaissance. Known as the “ greatest classicist of the ‘400”, the artist focuses not only on the overall composition, but also on the particular emotions and gestures of the children. The Choir by Donatello is something completely different, as it is considered an experimental work where figures seem almost sketched and involved in a dance that instill energy and dynamism in them. We are facing two opposite ways of understanding life and the world: on a hand the “ apollineo” one by Luca, on the other the "dionisiaco" one by Donatello.
Who knows whether the two artists had agreed upon the different approach to the assigned themes!
The two Choirs stayed at their place for two centuries and a half until they were removed because thought as out of fashion, not responding to the rising Baroque style. This happened in 1688, when the Grand Duke Ferdinando, the son of Cosimo III de' Medici, got married to Violante Beatrice di Baviera. After spending periods of time at the Uffizi Gallery, the two Choirs were reassembled under the supervision of the Opera in the newly born Opera Museum in 1887 , where today they are preserved and exhibited.
Photo by Antonio Quattrone for Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore