Altar of the Assumption of the Virgin “Madonna della Cintola”
Andrea della Robbia

ca. 1500

Glazed terracotta
Height 282 cm



On the occasion of the opening of the Liebieghaus as a sculpture collection on 14 October 1909, two works were donated to the museum by citizens of Frankfurt: the Frankfurt Athena, an important ancient statue, and Andrea della Robbia’s Marian altar. The altar combines the Assumption of the Virgin with the scene of the Virgin giving her girdle to the apostle Thomas.

This disciple, who had earlier doubted the resurrection of Christ, also questioned the physical assumption of the Virgin until, so the legend goes, the Mother of God handed her girdle down to him from heaven. According to accounts by crusaders, the girdle was brought to Italy in 1365. Since then it has been venerated as a relic in the Cathedral of Prato. In the first half of the fifteenth century, the Florentine sculptor Luca della Robbia (1399/1400–1482) had come to specialize in the production of glazed terracotta pieces known as majolica sculptures. His workshop was extraordinarily successful. The terracotta works—altars, reliefs, architectural elements, vases and mirrors, of which the majority displayed blue and white glazes—are found all over Tuscany. In 1470 Luca’s nephew Andrea took charge of the workshop, and under his management production increased. By using a cheap material, clay, and working with moulds, it was possible to produce relatively large numbers of identical or similar forms. The Altar with the Gift of the Holy Girle was an instance of this: there are other, slightly modified versions of it in an Italian church in La Verna and in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.