The most extensive accounts of the career of Fantuzzi are those of Herbet (II, 1896, 257-291; 1969, 257-291) and Zerner (1964, and 1969, XVII-XXI, XLI). Although born in Bologna, he is known from documents as active only at Fontainebleau, first between 1537 and 1540 as a low paid assistant to Primaticcio, then as a more highly paid designer of grotesque ornament for him in the 1540s when the Gallery of Ulysses was being decorated. His dated etchings span the years 1542 to 1545 and it is assumed that all of his prints were made in this period. Of the etchings that were made after Rosso’s designs, one is dated 1542, another, 1543. But on the basis of the evolution of Fantuzzi’s technique, Zerner dated all of the prints after Rosso throughout the etcher’s known period of activity as a printmaker.
Twenty-four etchings are catalogued below. Of these, fourteen are related to the Gallery of Francis I; two others may be connected to it. Two prints are derived from the designs for the destroyed Pavilion of Pomona (L.51). Three others are of independent inventions by Rosso. Four prints may be related, or in part related, to the lost decoration of the Small Gallery at Fontainebleau (L.53). One other may be based on a lost drawing for a frieze in the Salle Haute of the Pavillon des Poêles at Fontainebleau (L.43).
Zerner expressed the opinion that the selection of scenes and frames in the Gallery of Francis I that Fantuzzi etched does not suggest any attempt to reproduce systematically all the decoration in the gallery. But it is possible that such a program was considered and cut short by Fantuzzi’s death in 1545 or 1546. None of the prints indicates that Fantuzzi worked from the actual decorations in the gallery. In most cases it can be shown, as Zerner indicated (in 1969, somewhat differently from his opinion in 1964, 83; see also Carroll, 1987, 45-46), that he worked from Rosso’s drawings, and possibly from copies of his drawings by his assistants. This would account for the majority of differences that exist between what appears in the gallery and what the prints show. Perhaps herein lies also the reason why only some parts of the gallery decorations were etched: Fantuzzi had access to only a few of Rosso’s many drawings. The limited number of drawings he had may also partly account for why the large scenes in the gallery and their frames were etched separately, although the surviving evidence suggests that such drawings may not have been common. Only the Milan and Boyvin Nymph of Fontainebleau (E.103) shows a frame and central image, both by Rosso, together, although this arrangement was not actually maintained in the gallery. No drawing showing a frame and central scene together was probably known to Fantuzzi. Of what was etched by Fantuzzi only two prints constitute together the decoration of a single wall, that of the Enlightenment of Francis I. (Only the Vertumnus and Pomona [E.62], from a drawing for the Pavilion of Pomona, shows part of a frame but this does not mean that Rosso’s drawing used by Fantuzzi showed a complete frame surrounding this scene, and certainly not the frame for an oval painting that was executed in the Pavilion.) Working with the graphic material that was available to him, it would seem to have been impossible for Fantuzzi to reproduce, immediately after Rosso’s death, all that was in the gallery unless he made drawings directly from its decorations, and this we do not see that he did. Nor did any other sixteenth century printmaker. Fantuzzi placed landscapes in the middle of the etchings of Rosso’s frames. Adelson (1980, 161-162) thought that the landscapes were substituted for Rosso’s central scenes apparently to allow contrast for the frame elements that in monochrome would have become confused with those scenes. At the same time it may be said that this made the frames useful also for others outside of their original context. Whether or not the landscapes were designed by Fantuzzi, as Zerner thought and Golson (1969, 96) implied they were or might be, cannot be determined because there are no other landscapes known certainly to be by this artist. Still, their very Northern appearance seems unusual for an Italian etcher. Although Zerner (1969, XXI) did not believe they were designed by Léonard Thiry, I find correspondences between them and the landscapes in his twelve Loves of Pluto and Proserpina etched by Léon Davent (Zerner, 1969, L.D. 94-95).
For whatever purpose the etchings themselves were made – to disseminate the Royal Style used at Fontainebleau would seem to have been the major one – they do give evidence of drawings that Rosso made, most of which have been lost, and probably also of copies that were made by his talented and attentive assistants. In some cases it can be shown that the etchings are very good reproductions of Rosso’s drawings even if Fantuzzi’s own energetic style can also be appreciated. His style appears partly derivative of one manner in which Rosso drew, as appears in his Pandora and Her Box (Fig.D.67a). Although no drawings for any of the cartouches (frames) survive, the evidence of the narrative drawings and the prints related to them allows one to assume that the etched cartouches are also faithful records of lost drawings by Rosso. Known or supposed minor alterations by Fantuzzi are recorded in the catalogue entries below where the source and possible source of each print is also considered.
The monograms of Antonio Fantuzzi are several combinations of the initials A and F. Some are simply the two letters side by side, or joined by a line across the top to give the suggestion of a T; also with a dot at each side, and as a construction of what seems a large central T with a short bar, turning it into an F with an added diagonal suggesting an A that is paired with a free standing A at the left, the whole set between two dots. Not all of these variations, and a few others with small differences where sometimes the F looks more like a T, are not found on etchings after Rosso’s designs.