If in the architecture of the Sanctuary favorite elements within the context of a particular “neo mannerism” shine through, the sculptures reveal cultural and formal elements meditated from time to time by Parodi during his apprenticeship and then his autonomous development as an artist. There are present, now explicitly, now hidden by a more balanced sense of composition, dynamic intentions with a spiral rhythm, which animate systems and figures with movement, always calibrated by the skilful use of light, now used to ripple and therefore to chiaroscuro, now to make the material silky and diaphanous. Parodi employs this sure craft as a function of the various subjects or their details, both in a naturalistic sense when the representation concerns a portrait or an immediate and concrete earthly presence, and in a more conceptual way when the need requires it. rhetorical emphasis of the transcendent or the symbolic so typical of the most up-to-date baroque culture to which he belongs by training and personal understanding.
Giulio Bresciani Alvarez, 1990
Provenance: French private collection; Florence, Giovanni Pratesi collection.
Specific bibliography: M. Clemente, Sant’Antonio di Padova, in «Con leggiadria lavorati, e con otti-mo gusto condotti». Filippo Parodi: tre opere venete, Firenze 2017, pp. 51-68, Id., “Con genio divoto verso il Santo glorioso”. Filippo Parodi e la Cappella delle Reliquie (1689-1697), in La Pontificia Basilica di Sant’Antonio in Padova. Archeologia Storia Arte Musica, a cura di L. Bertazzo e G. Zam-pieri, tomo II, Roma 2021, pp. 1387-1389.
The bust by the Genoese Filippo Parodi depicting Saint Anthony of Padua which is presented here, which has come down to us in an excellent state of preservation, measures 35 cm in height and rests on a molded corbel which almost seems to have been created aborigine to accompany it.
The young Saint has wide open eyes looking upwards, towards the sky. His pupils are well marked, engraved, and make his gaze even more magnetic, hallucinated, ecstatic. His mouth, gracefully designed, is half open: under his upper lip you can briefly see the line of his teeth. These are marked one by one. His head is tilted slightly to the left. His face is clear, fresh, smooth; from the regular nose the superciliary arches develop clearly. He has a beautiful smooth forehead, our Saint Anthony: the light flows calmly, nothing stops it, nothing blocks it. Not even the Franciscan habit that he wears – here we can only see it in part: the abundant hood is offered to us in full, while the rest of the tunic, however, is only hinted at – it can be said to be rough, unrefined. At first glance, therefore, it would seem that the artist has created a concordance of polished, smooth surfaces. On the contrary, as is typical of Parodi’s art, the extreme smoothness of both the habit and the face is granted by him in contrast to the lively tonsure that characterizes the Saint. The crown that surrounds it, in fact, is made up of intricate tufts of frizzy hair, defined with blows of the chisel and the skilful work of the drill, visible here and there. Restless, these locks blaze like flames in the air, nourished, it seems, by the sanctifying breath of the divine Spirit and by an ardent inner faith.
Its recognition as a representation of Saint Anthony of Padua arises immediately: the bust, in fact, is clearly ‘cut’, thus making it an object intended for private devotion, from the large statue portraying the Franciscan friar (figs. 1-3) sculpted by Genoese master for one of the most important chapels of the Antenorean Basilica named after him.
«It was necessary to begin the conspicuous building of the Sanctuary to place the Most Holy Tongue of this glorious Saint Anthony and the other illustrious relics for the pious devotion of the faithful, for this purpose Mr. Filippo Parodi, famous sculptor of our times and famous architect, whose illustrious works make him highly commended and suitable for such great employment”. With these words, written on 8 March 1689, the Presidents of the Ark of the Padua basilica of Sant’Antonio officially commissioned Filippo Parodi to take care of the construction, and consequent plastic decoration, of a new and much desired chapel: that still known today as the Chapel of the Relics or the Treasury. Certainly one of the most famous pious places among the large community of devotees of the Franciscan saint, but also one of the most singular architectural and sculptural complexes that the Italian, and therefore European, seventeenth century produced.
Crossing the entrance hall – laid out starting from the end of the 17th century by Giovanni Bonazza, one of the greatest sculptors of Venetian plastic art of those times – one is surprised by the spectacle offered (fig. 4). In fact, a grandiose circular environment opens up before us, encrusted with precious marbles and covered by a large golden dome (set above a windowed drum) on which a multitude of joyful cherubs modeled in stucco hover, emerging from white clouds. . At the center of the vault, from which the light of Paradise radiates, a trio of plump angels carry with them some lilies: one of the symbols of the Virgin Mary and also a canonical attribute of the saint of Portuguese origins. And it is in fact for him, for Antonio, that those divine flowers seem to be reserved.
Now lowering our gaze and walking within this enveloping space, in front of us we encounter, in an area between the earth and the sky, the figure of the young friar as he is led in glory towards that divine place by a crowd of beautiful angels (fig. 5). Accompanied by a soft and leavening cloud (a mystical medium par excellence on which to hover), they, on the one hand, hold it up, stabilizing it, and on the other hand, guide its ascent. From under the heavy habit that dresses him, we see another bunch of lilies emerge: Antonio, arms wide open, and now enraptured and ecstatic by the dazzling vision of the Eternal Bliss that awaits him, has momentarily abandoned them. The young man is joyfully “absorbed, completely included in the thrill of a celestial joy”: “no longer Brother Anthony, but Blessed Anthony [when] the phase of the visible and ephemeral has passed, resulting in the definitive luminous nunc of eternity”.
Carved in marble, this group, as we have already mentioned, is the work of Filippo Parodi, and was certainly one of the first subjects fired by him from the beginning of the works for the construction and decoration of the Sanctuary of the Relics. Although the construction site only began in 1691 – that is, after the Ve-neranda Arca decided to allocate the chapel of the Stigmata of San Francesco to the undertaking instead of the area of the Chapter -, already on 5 December 1690 the Genoese sculptor was already receiving the sum of 3400 lire «for the finishing of the statue of Saint Anthony» . Completed in April of the following year, it was translated from Parodi’s Padua residence into the basilica the following month.
From that date, and until 1694, the Genoese artist gradually received various payments for the creation of the statues destined to enrich that immense “Theatrum Sacrum”.
The construction and plastic decoration of the Chapel of the Relics was the last ecclesiastical undertaking of some importance to which Filippo dedicated himself in the Dominante. He made his debut in the Marcian capital with the erection of the funerary monument to the patriarch Giovan Francesco Morosini (Venice, San Nicola da Tolentino, known as dei Tolentini), prepared between 1683 and 1685 approximately, and then created the Complaint on the Body of Christ for the altar of the Pietà in the Benedictine basilica of Santa Giustina (fig. 6); the Monument to Orazio Secco (fig. 7) and the marble base of the ceroforale (fig. 8) for the same basilica of Sant’Antonio; and, finally, in Venice, in San Giorgio Maggiore, San Pietro and San Paolo (figs. 9-10), statues sculpted and installed by 1687.
Among these undertakings, however, it was certainly the one for the Sanctuary of the Relics which must have increased his fame and made him in all respects a very famous sculptor.
On this front, a resolution dated 2 June 1694, passed a few weeks after Filippo’s departure for Genoa, is significant. On that date the Ark met to discuss the Ligurian’s sculptures temporarily deposited in one of the chapels of the Basilica, finally reaching the conclusion that «the statues sculpted by Mr. Filippo Parodio Genoese must not be shown to anyone without first obtaining permission from the Veneranda Congregatione with part taken with all the votes and when they are shown in execution of that part they must be subject to them. Presidents destined for the sanctuary will assist you and once again have them tightened and covered as before.” Such must therefore have been the curiosity aroused by his works, and such also the impatience of the faithful to see these magnificent sculptures, that to avoid an unmanageable coming and going of visitors the members of the Antonian association decided not only to put them under lock and key, but even to cover them with cloths.
Confirmation of this immediate fortune are precisely the works that were requested from him by private clients, taken precisely from some of the statues he created for the Chapel of the Relics, works which chronologically must be placed approximately between 1691 and 1694.
While on the one hand some people’s interest fell on the magnetic little angel with the skull at the foot of St. Francis – the preparatory study in terracotta is preserved in the Hermitage of St. Petersburg (fig. 11), while the final marble is instead visible in the collections of the Civic Museum of Asolo (fig. 12) -, on the other hand the inclination of the faithful collectors was concentrated on Sant’Antonio.
And so the re-emergence of our bust, like the one of larger dimensions preserved in the Hermitage (fig. 13), not only confirms it, but actually visually documents what was noted in one of the many eighteenth-century guides of the city of Padua. It was the merit of Monica De Vincenti to have reported for the first time what was noted by Giambattista Rossetti in the third enlarged edition of his Description of the paintings, sculptures and architecture of Padua, published in 1780. Opening the volume on page 333, we read in fact that in the residence of Count Obizzo Camposampiero, in the locality of San Leonardo, «there is a marble head from Carrara, representing St. Anthony, by Filippo Parodio: and the head of St. Francis of Assisi by Antonio Bonazza: their names can be read in both.”
If on the one hand this news supports the validity of the recognition of the sculpture in Parodi, on the other hand it does not allow us to recognize the Saint Anthony presented here as the sculpture preserved in the Obizzo house. That, in fact, should show the sculptor’s signature (“you can read their names”), as the bust depicting Saint Francis of Assi (fig. 14) signed by Antonio Bonazza which Simone Guerriero rightly linked to this source also seems to demonstrate .
G. Bresciani Alvarez, Architettura a Padova, a cura di G. Lorenzoni, G. Mazzi, G. Vivianetti, Padova 1999, p. 64.
Il documento è pubblicato in A. Sartori, Il Santuario delle Reliquie della Basilica del Santo a Padova (primo), “Il Santo”, 2, 1962, p. 144, doc. VIII, contributo fondamentale per la messe di carte d’archivio rese note riguardo all’edificazione e decorazione della nuova cappella.
Su tale impresa mi permetto di rinviare al recente contributo M. Clemente, “Con genio divoto verso il Santo glorioso”. Filippo Parodi e la Cappella delle Reliquie (1689-1697), in La pontificia ba-silica di Sant’Antonio in Padova. Archeologia Storia Arte Musica, a cura di L. Bertazzo e G. Zampieri, tomo II, pp. 1353-1395.
Entrambe le citazioni (la prima dal Gonzati e la seconda dal Gamboso) sono tratte da G. Bre-sciani Alvarez, Architettura a …, cit., p. 60.
Ivi, p. 57.
M. De Vincenti, in Dal Medioevo a Canova. Sculture dei Musei Civici di Padova dal Trecento all’Ottocento, catalogo della mostra (Padova, Musei Civici agli Eremitani, 20 febbraio-16 luglio 2000), a cura di D. Banzato, F. Pellegrini, M. De Vincenti, Venezia 2000, p. 146.
G. B. Rossetti, Descrizione delle pitture, sculture, ed architetture di Padova: con alcune osser-vazioni intorno ad esse, ed altre curiose notizie, 2 voll., Padova 1780, p. 333.
Vedi S. Guerriero, Per un repertorio della scultura veneta del Sei e Settecento I, “Saggi e Me-morie di Storia dell’Arte”, 33, 2009, pp. 209, 219.