FONTANA, Giovanni Battista
(b. 1524, Ala, d. 1587, Innsbruck)


Italian painter, part of a family of painters, draughtsmen and printmakers, active in Austria. His training was based on the works of such masters as Titian and Veronese, and his activity in Austria, documented from 1562, comprised substantial decorative projects and altarpieces, drawings and numerous engravings. In 1562 he and his brother Giulio Fontana (active 1562–1578) executed frescoes (destroyed) in the chapel of Schloss Kaiser-Ebersdorf in Vienna; in 1573 he was in Innsbruck, where he settled and in 1575 became court painter to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria.

In Innsbruck he created frescoes for the oratory of the Hofkirche; the spheristerion (1573); the Silberne Kapelle, built by Giulio Fontana, in which he executed 14 scenes of the Passion (1576); and a room in the castle (1578). A more important work was the decoration of the ceiling of the dining-hall of Schloss Ambras, illustrating Allegories of the Zodiac, the Elements and the Planets (1583–84; in situ). In 1576 Fontana painted the altarpiece for the Gotteshaus in Seefeld and in 1580 a portrait of the Cardinal Archduke Andreas of Austria; in 1582 he provided drawings for the catalogue of the collection of armour at Schloss Ambras.

Seventy-eight etchings (1559–79) have been attributed to Giovanni Battista Fontana, but they present considerable stylistic and technical disparities and are not always signed or initialed; possibly Giulio Fontana contributed to them. The engravings include prints of paintings by Titian, Veronese and Domenico Campagnola, as well as original designs by Giovanni Battista Fontana; in many cases he probably produced only the drawing. Of four additional folios (Passavant), that depicting the Flight into Egypt (1580), initialed B.F., has a freedom and immediacy of touch reminiscent of Campagnola’s xylographs. In other copper engravings, however, Fontana used a fine point to render minute depictions: for example, a series of twenty-seven illustrations of the story of Romulus and Remus (1573), dedicated to the Archduke, and a series of seven sheets with the Parables of Christ, set in picturesque landscapes of northern style, which are among his most convincing works.

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