Papier mâché (cartapesta)

Originally, papier mâché was a mash consisting of wetted waste paper mixed with glue or other adhesives, pressed into a mould and used for making sculptures, reliefs, decorative objects and decorations for festivities. It was particularly popular in Italy between the 15th and 18th centuries. Although it was not as durable as wood, stone or terracotta, it permitted even more copies to be made of the original model. Accordingly, it was used for decoration as the cheaper version of stucco from the 18th century onwards. Since the 19th century, papier mâché has been used for making costumes and applied artefacts.

Making papier mâché (cartapesta)

The prototype was modelled from clay and then a negative imprint was made. Several materials (e.g. lead, as can be seen among the samples) could be used to make this negative mould. Several papier mâché models could be made out of this negative mould. The mash of paper was pressed into the negative and afterwards water was squeezed out from the mash, which was fluid at the beginning, using a piece of textile and creating a homogeneous layer. The papier mâché reliefs were often strengthened using additional textiles. When the papier mâché was dry it was taken out of the mould.  This was an easy process as it was almost dry but still flexible. Thereafter the papier mâché relief was dried out completely. Then the surface of the relief was grounded using a mixture of glue and chalk. It was built up in several layers as some details could be emphasised in the thick layer even after drying. The final treatment was painting. The colours and shades were painted in layers upon each other, just like on wooden reliefs.

(Jacopo Sansovino [Jacopo Tatti]: Virgin and Child, inv. no.: 4971)