THE SACRISTIES: the three sacristies of the Basilica di San Martino, considered as a whole, constitute not just an artistic experience taking the form of an itinerary of marvels, but also, and more importantly – as the planners, designers and executors of these works also saw them –, as a complex body of work whose significance is to be linked to their constituting an act of faith.
If we lose sight of this underlying reason, we find it hard to account for, or to clearly account for, the figures and narrations we find here. The sacristies are located on the western side of the church, and are arranged to form an ‘L’ surrounding and embracing the Chapel of the Rosary. The first sacristy is accessed from the basilica. The third – the last of this itinerary – communicates with the Palazzo Tassi-Pellicioli (now the seat of the Museo d’Arte Sacra San Martino). The function of the sacristies was therefore not solely practical (as a place in which the vestments, altar cloths, holy vessels and so forth are stored or in which the priest prepares himself prior to officiating). In all likelihood, their function was more ideal in nature, in that they provided a passage between the exterior and the interior, between the time of the people and of the town, on the one hand, and, on the other, the time of ritual and worship.
This latter aspect played fundamental role in the seventeenth century, above all on the occasion of processions which, having traversed the town, finally returned to the church. After the procession, the faithful entered the church once more and awaited the service, and the priests, clerics and authorities entered the third sacristy and took their places on its generously proportioned benches. Only those who were to officiate would enter the second sacristy. Here, with its altar and kneeling stools, a ritual quality could be endowed on preparation for the service. Then, in the first sacristy, the vestments worn for the procession were removed and those for the service donned. The persons waiting in the third sacristy would then, by a direct passage, enter the first sacristy to form a procession once more and enter the church in the vicinity of the main altar.

Undoubtedly, considerations of a more practical nature also had a part to play in the planning of such a large structure: the church at Alzano was becoming increasingly important, hence more funding was being made available. If we consider the clergy posted to the various locations falling under the jurisdiction of the parish, many dozens of priests probably officiated in church during feast days. In the eighteenth century, the numbers increased again, when the church of San Martino became a collegiate church with an annexed Chapter of forty Canons. Construction of the three large sacristies was therefore also dictated by functional considerations relating to service.
While the great church renovation project was started up in 1656, the work on the sacristies started up twenty years later, in 1676. The tasks were of some complexity, in that they depended on a variety of skills. Various craftsmen worked side by side, each with their own tasks. It is a known fact that the Fantoni family started work on the wooden fittings for the first sacristy in 1679. The Rovetta workshop returned in 1692 for work on the second sacristy in collaboration with another leading family of artists in wood, the Caniana family.
Most of the adornments and fittings of the three sacristies (including the most significant) were completed over a period of slightly more than fifteen years. Although the project was unitary, and although the work was carried out rapidly (aspects which might suggest uniformity, from the stylistic point of view), we note a fairly marked variety of nuances or approaches in the three areas under consideration. We may go so far as to say that this diversity records a changeover between two ages, both from artistic and historical points of view, with the passage from the Baroque mode, with its sense of high drama, to the elegance of the less religiously oriented Rococo mode.

Deposizione - Andrea Fantoni
Particular of Deposition from the Cross
Andrea Fantoni