Fratelli Riso, Lecce and papier-mâché: a successful trio
Arte Sacra by Claudio Riso is a family activity that has its roots in Salento, more precisely in Lecce, where the papier-mâché laboratory founded by Claudio and run together with his brothers Giuseppe and Sandro.
Claudio approached the world of papier-mâché when he was a little boy; after attending the workshop of Maestro Antonio Malecore, one of the most important paper-mâché Masters of all time, with his brothers, he knew that this was undoubtedly his vocation and thus opened his laboratory and shop in the city center, where he makes his statues and put them on sale.
In their workshop, Claudio and his brothers reproduce the typical figures of the sacred art of Salento and not only, such as the Nativity, the Madonna, St. Joseph, Jesus and the Three Kings, according to the traditional stylistic canons, all in papier-mâché, entirely handmade. Other typical scenes are inspired by peasant and popular life, endangered crafts such as the fisherman who moves with the nassa (a fish trap) on his shoulders, or the farmer holding caciottas (a kind of cheese).
The works are entirely handmade, respecting the processing phases of the past and are distinguished by the accuracy and taste of finely reproduced detail. The accessories are handmade too, brass and wood sticks made on measure, twine and scissors.
The papier maché processing includes about 25 different phases. Riso brothers divided the tasks as follows:
Claudio takes care of modeling the bodies by creating the wire structure, which will work as skeleton, then he covers it with curly straw to create the body, and then he adds papier-mâché to further consolidate the structure. Lastly he will apply hands, feet and head made and molded in terracotta.
Giuseppe has the next phase, the dressing phase, the “tailor” of the group, which creates real papier-mâché clothes that will cover the body of the character previously created by Claudio, also giving the clothes folds and models that donate often a very special movement effect. For example, the draperies of Madonnas, Kings and St. Joseph give free rein to the Baroque, typical of Lecce.
Sandro is entrusted with the final phase of the process, the coloring, so here are the details of the face and especially of the eyes that will give soul to the statue. For the sacred figures, especially the three kings, we use Middle Eastern decorations such as gifts, crowns and swords that are created by hand by Middle Eastern artisans on purpose, to faithfully reproduce reality.
The processing of papier-mâché is a very ancient art and it is strongly anchored to the city of Lecce and Baroque architecture, which had maximum artistic expression during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The papier-mâché is made of paper, water and glue. With its versatility it can reproduce more noble materials such as silver, marble or bronze. It was commissioned for religious reasons to cover sacred statues, putti etc. This made the figure of the artisan of that time very noble, combining it with the phenomenon of baroque.
About Sacred Art, Riso brothers received many commissions over the years from churches, for example they created a crucifix (160 cm tall) for a church’s altar in Ferrara, San Giuseppe (180cm tall) for a church in Foligno and a crucifix, Christ and a Madonna for Churches in the province of Monza and Brianza.
They also are so much proud of the commissions from the municipalities that hosted illustrious personalities to whom the Riso brothers have been able to make a gift of their creation in papier-mâché, such as the then Pope John Paul II and the Nobel Prize winner Michail Gorbačëv.
The Riso brothers also organize individual or group courses in their workshop, to teach this beautiful ancient craft to those who are interested.
“The course, which consists of a number of hours chosen by the student, as well as providing historical information on the origins of the papier-mâché, will give the unique, original and unforgettable opportunity to touch the production of the pieces of art, participating personally in the creation of papier-mâché statues, offering, therefore, the exceptional opportunity to deepen the knowledge of this centuries-old form of craftsmanship in Lecce.
Through your own senses you will know the materials and live the emotion and the surprise of being able to create objects in papier-mâché with your own hands. The course is certainly a significant choice for those who want to live a privileged experience of Cultural Tourism. Undoubtedly, for all the amateurs of the sector, even then for the same salentini, it is a valid alternative to engage in a creative activity capable of enriching your free time “breathing” the atmosphere of a true “Bottega d’Arte” guided by the charm of the masters.” (from their web-site).
Here are some photos with groups of tourists from all over the world...
The Riso brothers respect the tradition, but they keep an eye on the future with new figures of the Apulian culture like the Pizzica dancer, who is now becoming much popular in Salento. They also create a vast collection of characters that can portray the figure of those who commission them by recreating the subject and his job, thus meeting a more modern taste.