Justice, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and the Holy Spirit (Ceiling of the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal)
Luca della Robbia
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This domed ceiling of glazed terracotta, featuring allegorical personifications of the four cardinal virtues (Temperance, Prudence, Justice, and Fortitude) and the Holy Spirit, was executed by Luca della Robbia in 1461-2. It is a part of a larger chapel in San Miniato al Monte in Florence, in which the tomb of James of Lusitania, Cardinal of Portugal, who died in Florence just a couple of years before in 1459, is found. The ceiling caps the complex and harmonious decorative programme of architecture, sculpture, and painting in this chapel. The Holy Spirit is in the central rondel, surrounded by the candlesticks that represent the seven gifts. The Virtues, each sculpted three-quarter length in high relief, are also galzed the brilliant Della Robbia white, set against a concave blue ground, their active forms echoing the circles that frame them. Rather than remaining symbolic abstractions, the Virtues twist and seem to look and gesture down to the cardinal's tomb below. The interstices are richly decorated with glazed terracotta frames, scallop-shaped tiles in a sophisticated gradation of blues, set against manganese purple, and illusionistic cubes. These forms of polychrome decoration (particularly the cubes) come from ancient Rome, and the figures are also classically inspired. Terracotta is a classical medium, described in Pliny, but the glazing was famously Luca's modern invention. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.