While the Della robbia dynasty was renowned for its elaborate altarpieces, stemmi and smaller devotional reliefs of the Virgin and Child, they also created intricate medallions representing single saintly figures meant to be installed in the walls and ceilings of churches. The present relief, with its sumptuously draped St. Jerome surrounded by a rich fruiting and flowering wreath, is evocative of this vein of their production. St. Jerome is here represented seated next to a lion and holding a book, two attributes with which he is frequently associated. The lion became Jerome's lifelong companion after he removed a thorn from its injured paw. The book, no doubt, makes reference to Jerome's translation of the Old and New Testaments into Latin.
Comparisons can be drawn between the present relief and a group of three similar works by Andrea della Robbia: one in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid representing St. Augustine and two in the Skulpturensammlung, Staatliche Mussen zu Berlin, Bode-Museum representing St. Gregory the Great and St. Ambrose (A. Radcliffe, et al., The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: Renaissance and later sculpture, London, 1992, pp. 92-95, no. 10, figs. 1-2, (entry by Radcliffe). These reliefs were from a series representing the four fathers of the Church, of which the fourth medallion, depicting St. Jerome, is lost. The three extant reliefs are first documented in the collection of the Florentine dealer, Stefano Bardini. By the 1890's, the Berlin reliefs were in the collection of James Simon and subsequently given to the city's museums while the Madrid relief was purchased by Johannes II, Prince of Liechtenstein in Vienna in 1896 (A. Radcliffe, op. cit., p. 92, 94). All three depict seated saintly figures in elaborate draperies surrounded by various religious attributes set within richly enameled fruiting and flowering frames. In addition, all they are of similar size to the present lot. When it appeared on the art market in 2012, it was suggested that the present relief was the fourth figure, representing St. Jerome. And, the present relief, like the two in Berlin and the one in Madrid, can also clearly be linked to Andrea della Robbia's workshop. Interestingly, all three of these reliefs, including the present relief, were in Central European collections by the early 20th century. The present relief was part of the industrialist Adolf Lists' celebrated collection of early ceramics and works of art housed in his Renaissance Revival palace, known as the Villa List in Magdeburg.
The present lot is accompanied by a thermoluminescence test indicating the terracotta was fired in the late 15th or early 16th century.