[By Simo Capecchi in Naples] Last autumn my husband bought a present for an english friend who loves Naples. Looking for something traditional, he chose an artisanal statue from the famous neapolitan nativity scene or Presepio and bought an angel from one of the most famous shop in town.
Before sending the package I had the chance to draw it. About 35 cm. hight, this angel reproduces an eighteen century model. The body is flexible, while hands and feet can be wooden or terracotta. Wings are made of wood and they can rotate. Dresses are in silk. And, impossible to show in a drawing, eyes are made of glass!
I live in Naples since many years but I had never entered before in one of the many shops in via San Gregorio Armeno, an ancient narrow street where the majority of these laboratories and shops are. It is such a touristic attraction that during Christmas time it can be absolutely impossible to walk around. Luckily it was still the end of October, so I decided to visit Ferrigno workshop and discover more about how the angel was made. I was warmly welcomed to stay, draw and ask as many questions I have, while they carry on their works.
Making a statue involves several artisans, different materials and many many hours of work. All nativity pieces reproduces ancient and traditional models plus they make modern figures as football players, politicians and vips. In a tiny room at second floor I met Dinesh, an artist from Sri Lanka who is capable to reproduce figures in clay at any size. In the selfie era, among traditional nativity statues, they also accept orders for personal portraits, to be placed in the Presepio or not.
On top of an elaborated Presepio, on a tiny table works Luca, the magician of glass eyes. He can carve 2 pair of eyes out of a 4 millimeters glass sphere and than manages to paint them on the back - they're so small he uses a nail to apply colors. His eyes catalogue includes animals, humans and many different colors and sizes. Only two people in the area can do this, Luca says, so they sell their eyes to other artisans too.
Teo cames from Bulgaria and he glues the glass eyes on the heads, and complete them with minuscule eyelids! Than he paint the flesh colors, many layers to give a natural and "old" looking skin. His wife, at home, will dress the statue in silk adding thin metal wires to model them.
At the end of the day I had material enough to compose my monthly illustration for "Dove" travel magazine with the right subject for December issue: