With temperatures already topping 30 degrees outside at 10’oclock in the morning, it was a relief to enter into the cool interior of the Arte Barsanti firm in Bagni di Lucca. This prize-winning company which specialises in the production of religious plaster figures was founded in 1900 by Carmelo Barsanti and after three generations it is still operating with family member Simone firmly at its helm.
My husband and I had booked up for a guided visit to the company which had been organised by the Michel de Montaigne foundation in Bagni di Lucca. As the small group stepped into the first of the many warren-like work-shop spaces we encountered a huge information panel recounting the history of Simone’s family who had founded the firm. Surrounded by shelves groaning with figurines and statues in various stages of production and ceilings veiled with a network of white plaster dust covered cobwebs above us, Simone led us through each stage of the production process. We watched on and listened intently as he described the processes involved to complete the figurines from the casting through to the painting of the statues. Incredibly the figures are still handcrafted using the original casts dating back 100 years and it was fascinating to see these. Simone proudly showed us a variety of documents and paraphernalia relating to the early years of the company as well as more recent letters of thanks from important people such as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and Pope John Paul II.
At the end of our visit we had the opportunity to purchase something if we wished. I bought a small unpainted but simply gilded Nativity group: a wonderful souvenir of our visit and certainly a Christmas ornament with a story.