Flight into Egypt,

Andrea Fantoni, circle of (Rovetta 1653-1734)



The subject of the Flight into Egypt is not here represented in accordance with the canonical account in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, but instead takes its inspiration from an apocryphal text known as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, or the Infancy Gospel of Matthew, which, during the Holy Family┤s rest on the journey to Egypt, recounts the episode in which the infant Jesus invoked the help of the angels, so that, bending a date palm, they provided sustenance for the Virgin Mary.
This subject proved extremely popular during the Seicento, particularly in painting, which is why a late dating should also be assigned to the present work, as also suggested by the architectural decoration in the background and the inclusion of the great palm, with its slender trunck and villous foliage.
These elements are combined with features of distinct archaism, such as the modelling of the drapery, with its sharp, divided volutes, alternating with deep, shadowed furrows, the deliberate serpentinata pose of the Virgin and the Child, who seem to owe a debt to the Venetian works of Jacopo Sansovino and the sixteenth-century sculpture of the Venetian school. Similarly rooted in the Renaissance tradition is the way in which the clay is modelled, with rapidity and narrative candour, and the considerable attention paid to the anecdotal details, particularly those of a naturalistic and expressive kind.
A significant feature, which could be considered unique in the correct evaluation of the work, is to be found in the "subtracting" treatment of the clay, namely to eliminating the thickness of the material by striking it hard with a miretta, using it as though it were a gouge; an element that might therefore indicate the authorship of an artist more accustomed to carving in wood than dealing with malleable materials. On the basis of this and what has been mentioned above, we are inclined to attribute the execution of the Flight into Egypt to the circle of the sculptor Andrea Fantoni (Rovetta 1653-1734), a specialist in wood carving active in Bergamo and Venice between the end of the seventeenth century and the first three decades of the following one (Tirloni 1959; Bossaglia 1978; Pacia 2016).
Fantoni was one of the principal exponents of a prolific family of sculptors in wood, active in this field since the Quattrocento, who between the mid-seventeenth century until the middle of the eighteenth, worked on a significant number of religious complexes, tabernacles, altarpieces, and ecclesiastical furnishings. Unlike other members of the family, who worked exclusively in wood, Andrea also enjoyed a considerable reputation as a sculptor in marble coming into close contact with the Genoese sculptor Filippo Parodi and maintaining fruitful relationships with patrons in Venice. An essential procedure in the working process of his workshop was the realisation of reduced scale models in terracotta - the origin also of the work discussed here - many examples of which are now divided between the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo and the Museo della Fondazione Fantoni in Rovetta.
Although no obvious equivalent of the Flight into Egypt has been found in the sculpture in wood attributable to Fantoni┤s circle, it can however be associated with some works in clay executed by the artist and his workshop, such as Saint Anthony and Angels (Rovetta, Museo Fantoni) (fig. 1), the Penitent Mary Magdalen (fig. 2), a PietÓ (fig. 3), the Adoring Angel (fig. 4) and the two figures of Judith and Esther (Rovetta, Museo Fantoni) (figs. 5-6) (Bossaglia 1978). These models also differ from each other in execution and the type of clay used, but share with the present Flight into Egypt the same rapidity in execution, the often hasty, almost impressionistic modelling of the surfaces and clothing, alternating with passages of extreme naturalism, particularly in the faces.

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