Hand-Carved Statue of St. Rufinus of Capua by Ferdinand Stuflesser 1875

Continuing on with our consideration of some new sculpture work, I wanted to draw your attention to this recent work coming from Ferdinand Stuflesser 1875 who are based out of northern Italy in the Gardena Valley (Val Gardena).

Stuflesser is a family operated business that has been carried on by five generations of that family for the past 140 years, passing on their tradition of craftsmanship and excellence from one generation to the next. Stuflesser focuses entirely on works that are hand-carved and create finished products in wood, marble and bronze. (See the end of this article for a short two minute video which shows their process.) Being true craftsmen, these are custom commissions where they work closely with the commissioning parties to execute works of liturgical art to their customers precise specifications and requirements.

Today I wanted to focus on one of their most recent commissions, a statue of St. Rufinus of Capua, bishop and third century martyr,. The work in question is entirely hand-carved from Linden-wood and also hand painted according to the instructions of those who commissioned it. Let's take a look at it:

Here is what Stuflesser tells us about this particular work:
"You can compare the carving style to individual handwriting. Every carver has his own style and some of them are better for male statues, other for female statues, other for portrait works, other for decoration carving, etc.

"For this specific project we were requested to create a small clay model to see the proportions of the statue. We have modified the clay model once to adapt it to the special requests from our customer. As soon as we had the okay to proceed with the carving we have assembled different wooden slabs. The wood we carve is pine or linden wood. Our dried woods are stored outdoors under a covered roof. Both are very soft and easy to carve.

"For the statue of St Rufino, we have used linden wood, as you can see from the light and uniform color. We do not use entire logs as they would move and open clefts as time goes by. We assemble the wood as a box, the central part of the statue is hole/empty.

"The first carving step is often done with an axe or a manual operated motor chainsaw – to carve the rough lines into the assembled wood. The carving part is done with chisels – the first weeks with big ones and later than with small chisels to carve all the fine details. The Church building on the base and the crozier were carved by the decorations carver. The flesh parts are often sanded with sandpaper to make them smoother. During the carving process we share images to our customer for a continuous feedback. As soon as we have terminated the carving process we start with the painting process. We use oil-based colors for our paintings. The painter applies several layers of colors to make the statue look more realistic and you will see different shades of the used colors. The gilded decoration is done with real gold leaf, 23 carats.

"As mentioned above, the customer is always updated with images of the statue so that he can also take part of the creation.

"The creation time for this 6 foot tall statue was approximately 3 months."
Here is a detail:

This would be an excellent statue in any material, but the fact that it is carved from wood puts it 'next level' in my estimation and ties into the genuine tradition of sculptural work within the Catholic tradition, utilizing noble and substantial materials, and providing an image that is capable of inspiring true devotion.

Tying into the comment made by Stuflesser above about each carver having his or her own style -- which I think right on the mark - like the other liturgical arts, there are different styles which can be found within this tradition, from that which is more medieval and renaissance in feel, taking on an almost illuminative quality (i.e the quality of a mediaeval manuscript illumination), then to that which is more baroque in its theatricality and heightened emotion, to the sternness of the Romanesque, and then to those which are more factual, emphasizing the historical personage. Any and all have their place of course and the beauty of commissioned works is that one can choose which is appropriate for the context and audience being considered.

As noted in another posts, it can be very difficult to accomplish coloured works of statuary today in ways that avoid the Saint-Sulpice sort of sentimentalism that has crept into so much mass produced statuary this past century. Even simply avoiding its influence would require discipline and a deep knowledge of the tradition in this regard.  In my estimation Stuflesser is one of those firms and for those parish priests, rectors or parish councils out there who are thinking about a commission, Stuflesser should certainly be one of the firms you should be considering.

On that point, a general comment: I've said before that there can be a place for the 'catalogues' -- ie. the mass produced items which come at a lower cost -- but if we are truly interested in a second spring for our liturgical tradition, this includes not only the liturgical rites but also that which surrounds them: the liturgical arts. In this regard, the catalogues should not be our starting point. We rightly view our liturgical tradition as a patrimony to be treasured and passed on, and so too should we consider the liturgical arts another aspect of that same liturgical patrimony that we pass on within our parishes, cathedrals and institutions. In this regard, quality and nobility should matter more than the bottom line. We must avoid thinking of the liturgical arts as short-term, throwaway items, and regain our sense of them as part of our cultural and liturgical patrimony in the same way that our ancestors did.

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As promised, here is a bit more about the process of the creation of this fine work.

These are the sorts of photographs, incidentally, that are sent to those commissioning the works so that they may provide continued feedback through the process.

The clay model
The beginnings of the roughed in carving

Here is a short video showing the Stuflesser creation process:

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