Needles in the Hay Stacks…
A little over 8 years ago, I came across a vintage Holy Family made of paper mache in a 12” series (or 30cm) by Fontanini. The Fontanini Company was founded in 1908 by Emanuele Fontanini, an artist in Nativity Sculpture who felt he could be more effective as a designer if he branched out on his own. Headquartered in Bagni di Lucca, the Fontanini brand grew to be known around the world as one of the premier and most well-known makers of Nativities. Many of their iconic designs were created by master Sculptor Elio Simmonetti. His 30cm designs in paper mache were manufactured in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s before the series was changed to be made of their trademarked Depose Poymer. Fontanini has now specialized in Nativity Figures for more than 113 years.
Thus began the quest to find the rest of the set. 8 years later, there are just a few that remain. Ebay has been a primary source for finding these pieces and a few of the rarest came from random searches in Italian. (fontanini cartapesta cm 30, presepe personaggi cm 30, etc.)
There are still 3 figures to this collection that I am still trying to find.
#12 – Donna e Bambino (woman with child)
#30 – il Cane (dog)
#23b – Blue Flying Angel (depose).
Rumor has it, there are other figures that were made by Fontanini in the traditional Cartapesta but I have yet to even find official photographs, let alone the figures themselves. I have heard of a Majestic Standing Angel and a Bare-Chested Camel Driver and there could be even more. I have managed to collect a few other figures of which I was told are likely made by Euromarchi, another factory in Bagni di Lucca, with gestures and paint colors matching to those of Fontanini. While some are Euromarchi, several are from unknown makers.
If there is anyone who knows of a source to find these last elusive pieces, please point me in their direction. I would love to know if other figures exist, how many alternate versions there might be of each figure and so on.
A.J. with Emmanuel Fontanini International Gift Show, Atlanta 2018.
In 2017, while at AmericasMart in Atlanta, I met Emanuele Fontanini, 4th Generation of the Fontanini Nativity Makers, at the Roman, Inc. showroom. We talked for a bit about figures from this set. He remembers them well but thought that the only catalogs that remain in the family archives are too brittle to be handled. What photos exist on the internet have become the authority on the subject. Many of these more obscure and rare pieces were not as readily available in the US market.
I believe that with several of these figures, multiple versions were sculpted and distributed. Their color themes and finish patina are identical to those officially of Fontanini.