E.81 Allegory on the Birth of Christ

E.81 Fantuzzi, Allegory on the Birth of Christ

Etching by Antonio Fantuzzi, 33.2 x 27.2 L (Paris).  Inscribed, at the lower left in back of the woman kneeling at the left, with a monogram composed of joined letters: .ATF..

Fig.E.81 (Paris)

Bartsch, XVI, 1818, 336-337, 1, as Fantuzzi.  Herbet, II, 1896, 281 (1969, 77), 38, as Fantuzzi after Rosso.  Zerner, 1969, A.F.74 (Paris), as 1544-1545, after Rosso.

COLLECTIONS: New York, 59.596.22 (foxed and cropped at the left).  Paris, Eb 14d (full margin but slightly misprinted at lower left and right).


Kusenberg, 1931, 164, Pl. LXXX, 3 (Paris), as after Rosso.

Panofsky, 1958, 50, 167-168, n. 28, as after Rosso.

Zerner, 1964, 75, 77, and 80, Figs., as 1544-1545.

Carroll, 1966, 180, n. 50, suggests that the old woman may be related to the similar figure in Rosso’s painting in Los Angeles.

Béguin, RdA, 1969, 105, suggests that the image is related to Rosso’s painting in Los Angeles.

Fagiolo dell’Arco, 1970, Fig. 109 (detail), 492.

Zerner, in EdF, 1972, 271, 272, Fig. (Paris), 273, no. 325, as after Rosso, and in spirit similar to the Los Angeles painting.  He also believes that the object held by the woman at the right is not an armorial shield, as the Panofskys thought, but rather a musical instrument or a vase.

Zerner, in Fontainebleau, 1973, I, 101, Fig. 75, II, 85, no. 325 (Paris).

Eisler, 1973, 639-640, calls it a Nativity and refers to its Michelangelesque origins.

Carroll, 1978, 34, 37, Fig. 19 (Paris), 40, 42, 47, n. 21.

Zerner, IB, 33, 1979, 221 (Paris).

Borea, 1980, 262, no. 670 (Paris).

Lévêque, 1984, 209, Fig. (Paris).

Carroll, 1987, 31, 45, 308-309, no. 99, with Fig. (Paris), 310-315, under no. 100.


At least since Herbet catalogued this print, Rosso has always been recognized as the inventor of this composition.  The composition is now also known from a drawing by Rosso of around 1537, sold at Sotheby’s in 1969 (Fig.D.72) and known to me only from a photograph.  Fantuzzi’s etching may be based on this drawing, or it may instead be derived from a second lost drawing of the same size but with a few different details.  That the model from which Fantuzzi worked was of the dimensions and shape of the Sotheby’s drawing seems indicated by the broken handle of the vase in the upper right of the print that is broken just at the place where this handle ends at the upper limit of the drawing.  If this is the case, as seems likely also from an anonymous etched version of this composition (Fig.E.150), then the upper part of the Fantuzzi print, including most of the two alcoves, the window, and the canopy of the bed, is an addition by the printmaker.  Furthermore, he would have widened the composition somewhat at both sides, completing the outward arms of both the vase bearer and the nude old woman.  Within the limits of the composition indicated by the drawing, the following differences can be found in the etching: the youth at the upper left wears a fur garment, the vase bearer has no drapery over any part of his torso, the top of the vase he carries is rounded rather than flat, Christ’s genitals are not covered by drapery, there is no lion’s head on St. John’s urn, and the cross and banderole in the foreground are lying at a sharp angle to the picture plane.  The canopy over the bed could have been designed by the etcher with reference to the one in Rosso’s Madonna and Child with a Book, known from Boyvin’s engraving (Fig.E.15); its flaps recall those of the canopy above the Virgin in Rosso’s Annunciation in Vienna (Fig.D.43a).  An almost identical round canopy appears in Rosso’s Francis I Adoring the Enthroned Virgin of around 1536 (Fig.D.69).  Hence, Fantuzzi would have enlarged the composition in sympathy with Rosso’s own ideas as seen in other works by him that the etcher could have known.  The absence of the lion’s head on the vase could be an oversight, and the fur garment might actually be indicated in the Sotheby’s drawing.  The diagonal placement of the cross and banderole could be due to Fantuzzi’s need to fill the bottom part of his plate, where there is slightly more space than in the known drawing, although the proposed lost drawing could have shown them in this position.  The uncovered genitals of Christ and of the vase bearer seem to indicate that the original version of the composition showed these two figures totally nude, as may have been true of the Sotheby’s drawing before it was retouched.  Both of these figures are uncovered in the anonymous etching of this scene.  In the print by Master I.♀.V. (Fig.E.100), Christ’s genitals are uncovered.

The anonymous etching shows St. John wearing a wreath that also appears in the etching of this composition by Master I.♀.V.  It would seem that this detail was in the drawing Fantuzzi used and was overlooked by him; leaves seem to be visible in the Sotheby’s drawing.  But the anonymous etching shows the breasts of the young woman in profile covered while in the other two prints and in the drawing they are bare.  The drapery may be an addition of the anonymous etcher.


OTHER VERSIONS OF THIS COMPOSITION, PRINTS: See E.100.  Master I.♀.V, etching (Fig.E.100).  Bartsch, XVI, 1818, 388-389, 32.  Herbet, IV, 1900, 353 (1969, 203), 18.

This print is generally thought to be derived from Fantuzzi’s etching, but this cannot be its only source.  It could also be dependent on the Sotheby’s drawing by Rosso (D.72).

See E.150.  Anonymous, etching (Fig.E.150).  Herbet, IV, 1900, 353 (1969, 203), under no. 18, and Herbet, V, 1902 (1969, 215), 22.  This print may be dependent on the same source used by Fantuzzi.