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Fontanini Figures Bring Nativity Set to Life

Fontanini figures are nativity scenes and pieces that are some of the most beautiful available today. They have been made for a hundred years by the Fontanini family, founded by Emanuele Fontanini in Bagni de Lucca, a small village Tuscany. One nativity scene can take almost two years to complete from the artists conception to the final product. This kind of care and attention to detail is why these figures are so much in demand and are passed from generation to generation.


After the artist has decided on a plan, he makes the whole scene, in the actual size, in clay. Only after this is finished will it be approved, or not, by the Fontanini family. If it is approved, a highly detailed model is made from beeswax with every tiny detail in place.

This is the beginning process on the long road to finished Fontanini figures. A mold is made from the wax and the wax is melted away, leaving the empty mold. Liquid polymer, a natural or synthetic compound of high molecular weight, is poured into the mold at a very high temperature and pressure. This way the polymer is sure to enter the tiniest detail of the mold. While it is still warm it is removed from the mold and cooled in cold running water.


When the Fontanini figures are cool they go to the homes of the painters. These painters may descend from generations of painters who have worked for the Fontanini family. The painting is done in a very particular way. Each item is painted first, for example, all the robes will be painted, then the sandals, then the animals until every figure is painted except the eyes. The eyes are done by specialists to get the realistic look of love and devotion needed for a life sized outdoor display.


The patina is the last process for the Fontanini figures. This is a combination of oil, lime, earth and burnt oils. It is applied all over with a brush and then it is wiped off with a soft cloth and wiped dry. At this point the figure is clean and non-toxic and ready for display. They make a story card for each creation explaining its history. These outdoor nativity scenes are usually five inches with seven characters but there are eight sizes available. The seventy inch nativity scene is most often displayed in churches or other institutions because of its big size. Every figure is minutely detailed from the smallest to the largest.


Fontanini figures are the most sought after nativity scenes. They are exquisitely designed and painted with all the deep feelings that Christians associate with the birth of Jesus. For added realism, some have lights that shine on baby Jesus or light up the stable.  Figures of the three kings, sheep and angels also come with tiny white lights that make them magical. They are still being created today, but some have been sold out and not recreated. For this reason alone, they are worth having and keeping for a lifetime.




This article was published on Saturday 31 October, 2009.

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