This unique Apulian art has its origin in the 18th century, when the nuns commissioned the reconstruction of the church “Chiesa di Santa Chiara” in Naples. Near completion, their money was running out, but they still had to reconstruct the ceiling decoration. So, they asked the artisans to manufacture it with papier-maché instead of wood and the Cartapesta art was born!
Today, the Cartapesta artists manufacture sculptures like the Blessed Virgin Mary, angels and jewellery, picture frames and vases. In Lecce, the capital of the province Lecce, you find 13 artist’s studios where the papier-maché art is handcrafted. The artwork consists of a wire rack which is layered with up to nine layers of papier-maché. It is made from water, flour and a dash of sulphate to protect it against mealworms. After drying, the sculpture is polished with a hot iron and the face and body shape are carved out.
Afterwards, it is painted in a unique way, which made the Cartapesta artists from Lecce popular. With a special firing technique, they obtain realistic effects and it cannot be destroyed by water. To laymen it is not obvious that it is not made of wood, it is only recognizable by the weight of the sculptures. The entire development of the Cartapesta art can be seen in the “Museo di Cartapesta” in the Castello di Carlo V in Lecce, which was opened in 2009.