in clay and plaster, in wood and marble

Written by  Berenice Giovannucci Vigi
The sculpture and sculptors of Ferrara from the Devolution of 1598 to the Napoleonic occupation.
It was the rare and richly illustrated tome by publisher Federico Motta Editore entitled Scultura e scultori a Ferrara 1598-1796 [Sculpture and sculptors in Ferrara, 1598-1796], housed in Ferrara's Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio, that first started me thinking about this period, which runs from the Devolution to the arrival of Napoleon.

During the seventeenth century there was no shortage of decorative frescoes and paintings being commissioned, although commissions for plasterwork decorations or works of sculpture in general were much rarer.

Moreover, historical sources have always high-lighted and praised the former whilst scarcely remembering or completely ignoring the latter.

Towards the end of the sixteenth century there is evidence of only one readily recognisable sculptor: the Lombardian Francesco Casella, who left his signature and provenance on the base of his terracotta sculptures which can be found in the alcoves set into the side aisles of the San Paolo church.

In the same church, there are also two other statues dating from just after the mid-seventeenth century, the Our Lady of Sorrows and St John, sculptures made in the Counter-Reformation or neo-XV-century style, but which are imbued with a more sensitive articulation of religious feeling.

The Lampadario is often said to be one of Filippo Porri's most beautiful works, showing his incredible skill and originality, and can be found hanging in the entrance to the cathedral's Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, showing the Resurrection of Christ in a swirl of clouds, amidst a multitude of cherubs holding aloft votive lights.

High relief 'paintings' on walnut wood depicting the Stigmata of St Francis and St Anthony with the Infant Jesus can be found in a chapel within the San Maurelio church, whilst the large wooden altarpiece built around the sacred image of the Madonna of San Luca can be found to the left of the altar in Santa Maria in Vado, along with the represen-tation, surely inspired by the Veneto-Emiliana region, of The Glory of God the Father at the top, with The Adoration of the Shepherds below.
Filippo Porri made a great many wooden crucifixes, but of these, I consider his Living Christ, currently housed in the church of San Carlo, to be his masterpiece, powerfully expressing incredible vitality and physicality.

Turning to the San Paolo church, a majestic showcase for various aspects of seventeenth century Ferrarese sculpture, within the alcoves of the left hand chapel we find astonishing life-size plaster statues of the local saints St George and St Maurelius, by Filippo Bezzi, known as il Giambologna, (d. Ferrara 1704), his style contrasting gloriously with the devotional conformism of his local contemporaries.

The two most beautiful pieces, completed around the end of the century, are theatrically animated, the intricate folds of their drapery seeming to float and fly on stormy air as they appear to sweep forward to escape the confines of their narrow alcoves.

We first see mention of Ferreri, born in Milan in 1673, in documentation from contemporary Gian Piero Zanotti, in the history of the Accademia Clementina, of which the sculptor was, in 1709, one of founding members. He came to Ferrara to carry out sculptural work on the facade of the San Domenico church, after which he went on to make other sculptures "in clay and plaster, in wood and marble" and "always to perfection". Many of Ferreri's works remain in Ferrara.

Undoubtedly the most fascinating of these is his life-sized statue of Vigilanza, which stands at the intersection of two flights of steps at the Archbichop's Palace, acting as a visual linchpin to the spectacular architecture, which was decorated in 1720.
The armoured young maiden holds a lance in her hand, and carries a shield adorned with the image of a cockerel, symbolic of one of the virtues thought indispensable to kings and those in power. She carries herself gracefully and ambiguously, encircled by the folds of her cloak which swirl about her; the statue is executed with a lightness and elegance of touch reminiscent of Mazza, but with a more knowing use of the classical style.

Andrea Ferreri's most outstanding work was that done as part of the modernisation of the chapels and the altars inside the cathedral. It began in the 1720s and constituted the city's most extensive artistic makeover. In the sculpted, life-sized images, they were partly reviving the memory of saints previously worshipped in the old adjoining altars, which were removed by Cardinals Verme and Cerri. Of all of them, only St Joachim and Saint Anna were made of marble, cut by Ferreri himself with skilful mastery, for the altar of the Death of St Joseph, the fifth along the left hand side of the nave.

A staple of art history books is the sculptures of the parents of the Madonna: they sit harmoniously in their surrounding alcoves, standing on plinths decorated with stylised leaves; with their heads gently inclined, their hands open, and their eyes intensely bright, they seem to want to speak with the faithful.

Their declamatory stance indicate the academic classical style, and suggest the influence and tutelage of Giuseppe Mazza.

The cathedral's 18th century refit was completed in 1745 with the arrival from Massa Carrara of Berninian brothers Andrea and Ferdinando Vaccà, who sculpted the larger-than-life Two Angels with Water Stoup in a conventional yet harmonious baroque style. A plaque beneath the sculpture attests that "much enthusiastic admiration" was heaped upon it by the provincial Ferrarese of the time.
Andrea Ferreri had brought fellow Accademia artists Filippo Suzzi and Lorenzo Sarti with him from Bologna to help work on the cathedral, and together with the Turchi brothers and his son Giuseppe, the city was thus left a great artistic legacy on his death in 1744.

Their presence ensured that the level of artistic quality of sculpted works could continue, whether through publicly, privately or ecclesiastically commissioned works.

Certainly in Ferrara prestigious monastic orders and noble families turned to those sculptors from Padova and Verona, because of their recognised skill in marblework.

They were joined in 1725 by Angelo di Putti. He made statues of St Ambrose, St Augustine, St Carlo Borromeo and St Anthony from Vicenza stone, to put in the alcoves along the facade of the San Carlo church.

Another Padovan "stone cutter" Pietro Benati made the altar of the Madonna of the Rosary for the San Domenico chapel in 1744, in which were life-sized white marble statues of St Dominic and St Vincent Ferreri. Benato also created two imposing altarpieces for the church of San Girolamo during the 1780s: the Altar of Madonna Del Carmine, flanked by two stunning statues of St Joachim and St Anna, and the altar dedicated to St John and St Teresa d'Avila, in which the life-sized white marble statues of the Prophet Elijah and St John on the Cross show evidence of great skill in rendering devotional and illustrative realism.

Finally, we should note the presence in Ferrara of the Veronese artists Puttini, Carlo Canali, Angelo Sartori and Diomiro Cignaroli, the latter the creator of the tormented figure of Penitence.

Between 1784 and 1786, Gaetano, of the famous Cignaroli family (to which Giambinetto also belonged), created the four marble saints which stand at each end of the San Giorgio bridge over the river Po in Volano: St George, St Morelius, St Rocco and St Philip Neri.