Della Robbia Frieze

The Adult Reading Room of the Peace Dale Library once served as an auditorium for civic occasions, plays, and musical performances. Though the space retains most of its original architectural character, with a high vaulted ceiling, balcony, and tall frosted windows, it now houses the library's non-fiction, circulation, and reference departments.

Before the library expansion in 1989, however, the room's focal point was a stage (now removed) on the north wall, capped by a frieze, which is still there.

This frieze is a reproduction of part of a work by the Italian Renaissance sculptor Luca Della Robbia (1400-1482). The original, entitled "Cantoria", was carved in Florence, Italy, between 1431 and 1439. It may still be seen in that city, where it was created to decorate the choir loft (or "cantoria") of the Cathedral there. It remains one of Della Robbia's most famous works.

The frieze you see here divides naturally into 7 panels, 5 in the middle of approximately equal size, and a narrow one at each end. One panel appears twice: second from the left and second from the right.

The general subject of the work is joyful expression through music. It contains approximately 60 figures, all youthful, and some quite small. Highly exuberant in their music-making, most are singing but others play drums, harps, lutes, and long trumpet-like pipes. The instruments are easy to pick out as they are highlighted in gold. A song book (at left) and a music scroll (at right), plus the lower border of the entire piece, are also done in gold.

The material used here is plaster; the original in Florence was carved in marble. A Boston firm, Caproni, crafted this reproduction in 1891 for the opening of this building (then known as Hazard Memorial Hall).

The original "Cantoria" is housed today in Florence's Museo dell' Opera del Duomo (having been removed from the Cathedral in 1688 to accommodate renovations for the wedding of Ferdinando di Medici). It contains a few more panels than are represented here, plus the carved text in Latin of Psalm 150, which provided the original inspiration for the work.

For more information you may consult almost any work on Florentine art of the Renaissance, or the following items in the library's collection:

1. Domestici, Fiamma. DELLA ROBBIA: A FAMILY OF ARTISTS. New York: Riverside Book Co., 1992. Library call number: 730 DOM

2. Lachowicz, Connie, Library Director. "Hazard Memorial Building 100th Anniversary Booklet", 1991. Copies are available at the Reference Desk.