The image of the Virgin Mary is in terracotta and is in an excellent state of preservation with no defects and abrasions on the surface which, in turn, has traces of a light glaze.
In its layout the work recalls a figurative style that is inspired by compositional elements/components passed on through the sculptural work of Orazio Marinali as may be witnessed in the evident similarities to the numerous Madonnas by the artist from Vicenza, the most important of which the terracotta Madonna in the Museum of Bassano del Grappa or the marble Madonna in the Venetian church of Sant’Alvise. The features, however, of this particular work would appear to have been re-worked in an ostentatiously late-Baroque style which indicates a certain geographical likeness to the area of Lombardy and, in particular, Brescia.
The forerunner of this approach towards the beginning of the eighteenth century was most certainly Antonio Calegari who, following in his father, Sante’s, footsteps trained alongside him and drew on the dynamism and chiaroscuro vivacity very much in keeping with the style of Marinali and, more generally, of Venice and which characterised his better works. Such works were imbued in the latter part of his working life by his brilliant approach towards a more Rococo style, more in harmony with the latest artistic production in Venetian painting and especially with the works of Giambattista Tiepolo.
It is during this later period of his artistic production – between the mid-1750’s and the beginning of the following decade – that this work belongs. It is within this relatively short period of time that our Madonna could be strictly compared with works, for example, as the Santa Rosa in the church of San Lorenzo in Manerbio (dated between 1756 and 1762), quite similar to the terracotta in the general appearance of the body and the execution of the facial features. The structure of the draping, with its intensely chiaroscuro and deep and folds also corresponds to the other later works.
Similar considerations may also be made concerning the Jesus Child which imitates almost to perfection the complexion of the body of the cherubs on the upper part of the altar of Saint John Nepomuk in the church of Santa Maria della Pace in Brescia, and which are also very similar to the type of physionomy with their deeply marked eye sockets and the small and pointed chin.
Comparisons with the two terracotta models of Saints Aloysius Gonzaga and Stanislaus Kostka (circa 1763, Brescia, Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo), destined for the parish of Chiari, are less direct in terms of the subjects but very strong in terms of the executive technique. This technique emphasises a similar treatment of the material which is modelled with the utmost attention to chiaroscuro yet maintaining a highly defined attention to detail. The not dissimilar quality of the finish brings to mind the fact that the Madonna was also destined to be made into a large-dimension work of either marble or stone, a work that has not yet been found.
All these most recent comparisons leave very little doubt in our ability to assign this Madonna and Child to Antonio Calegari. Even though we still do not know the breadth and entirety of his work, it may be considered nonetheless one of his finest pieces.
Massimo De Grassi