Andrea della Robbia carried on the popular and lucrative production of terra-cotta sculpture covered with enamel glaze, a technique developed in the 1430s and 1440s by his uncle Luca. The glazed coating gave the colors of della Robbia's works a degree of durability impossible for sculpture that was simply painted. Their white-glazed figures, set off against deep blue grounds and sometimes surrounded by multicolored garlands of fruit or flowers (as in Andrea's Adoration of the Child), were in demand as devotional images for churches, homes, and outdoor shrines.
The half-length treatment of the Virgin brings us close to the figures, whose attitudes combine tenderness and solemnity. The Virgin holds the Child gently, her forehead grazing his hair. The child rests his left arm against her chest and clutches her left hand, as he clings to a corner of her veil. Yet for all their physical closeness, they do not look at each other, and their expressions are grave. The Virgin's downcast gaze suggests meditation on the child's fate. The child turns his face toward the world, but his eyes, with pupils drifting upward, also suggest contemplation. Their thoughts seem to converge on the same sorrowful theme: the coming Passion and death of Christ.