Art and techniques of the stuccatori: understanding through replication

Jean, Giacinta and Felici, Alberto and Caroselli, Marta and Nicoli, Giovanni and Luppichini, Stefania (2021) Art and techniques of the stuccatori: understanding through replication. In: Reflecting on reconstructions: the role of sources and performative methods in Art Technological studies. ICOM-CC, pp. 107-114.

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The experimental replication of stucco provides understanding of the techniques used to make sculptural decorations by the famous 17th-century artists coming from the Italian part of Switzerland. Mortars consisting solely of lime, sand and water can deform under their own weight, and are not ideal for fine modelling. Among potential additives widely used by plasterers, the current experimentation focuses on the introduction of varied proportions of gypsum (calcium sulphate dihydrate), and the way preparation processes influence the working properties of a plaster, including its plasticity and setting time. Historic manuals and treatises, archival research, and scientific analyses offer preliminary information, but only experimental replication enables empirical evaluation, leading to deeper understanding of the complex factors accounted for by artists in designing and working with stucco mixes to achieve their intentions. Among other observations, the experiments disprove the common assertion that gypsum-additive plasters are no longer workable under conditions of advanced setting. On the contrary, the lime-sand-water-gypsum mixture can be remixed and rehydrated during the setting phase, rendering a soft and plastic clay-like compound with a long setting time, enabling modelling of even the most complex and subtle details. Through experimentation, we can better appreciate the profound knowledge of these artists, able to continuously adapt their materials in each phase of sculptural execution. Through years of practice they learned to master a difficult material, and in the Baroque period, applied their knowledge and skill in new forms of artistic expression.

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