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Luca della Robbia's marble Cantoria panels to travel to the U.S. for the first time
Luca della Robbia, Trumpeters and Young Girls Dancing, 1431-1438. Marble, 40 x 37 in. From the Collection of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence. Photo: Scala/Art Resource, NY.

ATLANTA, GA.- In October 2014, three marble panels from Italian sculptor Luca della Robbia’s famed organ loft—created for the Florence Cathedral—will travel to the U.S. for the first time for “Make A Joyful Noise”: Renaissance Art and Music from Florence Cathedral at the High Museum of Art.

The High’s exhibition will bring these panels back into the musical environment for which they were created by displaying them with other musical objects, including choir books from the cathedral and a lectern designed to hold them. Musical programming for the exhibition is being coordinated in partnership with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The exhibition will be on view at the High from Oct. 25, 2014 to Jan. 11, 2015.

Luca della Robbia began his Cantoria, originally designed as an organ loft but later used to hold choir singers, for the Florence Cathedral in 1431. He worked for seven years on the project, eventually producing 10 exquisitely detailed panels that depict the celebratory text of Psalm 150. Luca focused his marble interpretation of the Psalm on jubilant children singing, playing instruments and frolicking to music.

Research conducted in preparation for the High’s exhibition has produced a new chronology for the order in which Luca created the panels, uncovering a progression from simple instruments and cautious carving in the early panels to spectacularly nuanced facial expressions and musical representations in the final panels. Payment records show that the Cantoria’s commissioners recognized Luca’s achievement, increasing his compensation during the course of the project.

Two years into the project, fellow Italian sculptor Donatello was commissioned to create another organ loft with the explicit direction that his work be of equal or better quality than Luca’s. Luca’s compensation per panel remained higher than Donatello’s, however, indicating the esteem with which his work was held. In 1688 the panels were taken down from the walls of Florence Cathedral, eventually finding their current home at the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence. Only one of the panels has ever left Italy, and none have traveled to the U.S.

In addition to three panels from the Cantoria, the High’s exhibition will include several contextualizing musical pieces, including a walnut lectern used to hold choir books at the Florence Baptistery and three choir books that were used in the cathedral.

The organ in Luca’s loft accompanied chants and motets, some of them written expressly for Florence Cathedral. The High will work with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to present a series of organ and choral performances around Atlanta and within the galleries of the exhibition. Also included in the exhibition will be recorded music from the pages of the featured choir books. The exhibition, therefore, marks the first time since the 17th century that Luca’s Cantoria will be displayed in a way that allows for it to be immersed in sound, as it was originally intended to be.

“By reuniting Luca della Robbia’s panels with the musical environment for which they were created, we are developing an exhibition that needs to be heard as well as seen,” said Gary Radke, guest curator for the exhibition and dean’s professor of the humanities at Syracuse University. “Displaying the panels side by side shows how Luca’s style and technique evolved during the course of the commission. Most people know Luca for his later colorful work in glazed terracotta, often featuring lavish representations of fruits and vegetables. On the Cantoria we see him paying similar, close attention to intricate musical instruments and actual musical performance but in the much more challenging medium of marble. Viewers to this exhibition will marvel at these details.”

“The High has a long tradition of bringing great works of art from around the world to Atlanta, and we are thrilled to continue that with this exhibition,” said Michael E. Shapiro, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. director of the High. “Luca della Robbia’s stunning Cantoria was created to be surrounded by music, and we are happy to have the opportunity to return the Cantoria to that setting. We look forward to partnering with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to bring our audiences a multisensory experience that celebrates art in its many forms.”

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