You will enjoy reading this article from the December 20, 2009 edition of the Washington Post. The article speaks about your plaque (item 292) as seen in the photo of cover of the Cantagalli catalogue provided by Pothead. As you read the article you might note that some historical inaccuracies were provided by Gastone Menegatti but still the article is interesting.
A Mother and Child Return to a Leesburg church
In 1936, Edith Morton Eustis, who lived at the Oatlands estate in Loudoun County and in the District, donated a rare Italian terra-cotta bas-relief, "The Adoration of the Child," to her church, St. John the Apostle Roman Catholic, in Leesburg. Some 35 years later, her gift vanished.
Andrea della Robbia, a Florentine sculptor and ceramicist, created the design for "The Adoration" in the 15th century. It features Mary looking down at the infant Jesus, who reaches up to her. Above, the hands of God reach down to place a crown on Mary's head as two angels watch the scene. Lilies, symbolizing purity, grow in the background.
Eustis's gift, 32 inches tall and 28 inches wide, was in storage in the choir loft by the mid-1970s. What happened to it after that is anyone's guess.
With dogged perseverance during the past three years, St. John's parishioner James P. Lucier located the Florence studio that fabricated the Adoration. This month, he gave a new Madonna and Child, an exact duplicate of the old, to the church.
Lucier's search of hundreds of Adorations in databases found only two featuring the divine imposition of the crown: Eustis's and one at the National Gallery of Art.
Eustis had donated "The Adoration" in memory of her youngest daughter, Edith Celestine, who at 24 had died of tuberculosis on Easter Sunday 1936. "Babs," as her daughter was called, buoyed the small St. John's choir with her lilting soprano and served the needy during the Depression.
(Eustis's two other daughters, Anne Emmet and Margaret Finley, donated Oatlands and its grounds, a premier Virginia historic property, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1963. Her fourth child, Morton, died in combat during World War II.)
Lucier, whose PhD from the University of Michigan is in Renaissance English literature, has studied painting and design at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Corcoran. He had admired "The Adoration" at St. John's, but in a generation, memories had dimmed. Was it a copy? An original? In the 1978 parish history, Lucier found mention of Eustis's financing of the church's 1936 remodeling in Babs's memory. A small photograph in the history showed "The Adoration" where Lucier remembered seeing it. But the history did not mention "The Adoration."
At the archives of Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg, Lucier found a similar photo by Leesburg photographer Winslow Williams. When enlarged, though, the image became too grainy and fuzzy to determine whether it was a true della Robbia.
Lucier's research found ample reason for Eustis's decision to memorialize Babs in the church. The Oatlands archives holds letters between mother and daughter from when both were ill and quarantined in their Washington residence. In her letters, Babs frequently expresses her faith in Jesus as her savior.
Knowing that David Edward Finley, Edith Eustis's son-in-law, was the first director of the National Gallery, Lucier beavered through correspondence in the gallery's archives and found a family connection. It was a letter from Finley, acting on Eustis's behalf, to the Cantagalli workshop in Florence. The Cantagalli family owned the della Robbia studio. The missive noted that Finley and Eustis had selected an Andrea della Robbia "Adoration of the Child," molded by the Cantagalli studio, to be made and shipped to St. John's Church. Upon arrival in Leesburg, "The Adoration" became part of Eustis's remodeling of the plain 1878 church into a replica of a 13th-century French country chapel.
(Eustis spent much of her childhood in France. Her father, Levi Morton, vice president of the United States under Benjamin Harrison, had been ambassador to France. Eustis's husband, William Corcoran Eustis, grandson and heir of William Corcoran, founder of the Corcoran Gallery, was born in France. His father, George Eustis, a former Louisiana governor, had been the Confederacy's emissary to France.)
Lucier then found a Web site for the Cantagalli studio. It mentioned that in 1878, the year St. John's was built, Ulisse Cantagalli began researching the techniques Luca della Robbia had perfected centuries before and created a mold.
Luca della Robbia, a sculptor of marble from Florence, in the 1440s developed a process of casting designs in terra cotta, which could be reproduced easily and at a cost far less than marble. His nephew Andrea della Robbia, initially an apprentice, followed suit, developing the "Adoration" design.
Lucier's e-mails to the Cantagalli studio went unanswered, and Italian friends of his found that the studio had gone out of business early last year. But its owner, Gastone Menegatti, wanted to take on special projects. He informed Lucier in a letter, "I like to GO ON."
In September 2008, Lucier decided to bolster his knowledge of Florentine art and literature in Florence, and he met Menegatti. Lucier showed him photos of the St. John's "Adoration of the Child," and Menegatti immediately recognized it as the work of his father, Amerigo Menegatti. He had worked for the Cantagalli studio and bought the firm in 1924.
After Lucier told Gastone Menegatti the story of the St. John's "Adoration," "he was very eager to make one for us as a contribution to his father's legacy," Lucier told me. Within a few months, the duplicate of the 1936 "Adoration" was on its way home.