From the terracotta clay his family has used for making bricks since the fifteenth century Marcello Aversa now creates incredible detailed miniature masterpieces depicting the nativity and the ancient rites of Sorrento. Rosie Meleady observes the sculptor.
Whenever I am in Sorrento I always make time to stop by Via Sersale 3, the terracotta sculpturing Studio of Marcello Aversa. The studio which has the feel of a sacred museum, with glass display cabinets displaying beautiful miniature terracotta pieces of the nativity and Holy week processions of the town.
As you ramble around the glass cases observing the incredibly detailed miniscule scenes, you find your walk ends in a studio room where Marcello Aversa sits. His head is always down, lost in his latest creation. I never introduce myself, instead I stand and watch from afar and feel part of something miraculous. It’s a moment of tranquility before I head back out into the buzzing streets of Sorrento with my batteries somewhat recharged.
Marcello Aversa was born in Sant’Agnello on the Sorrento Peninsula in 1966. The family business was a nearby kiln where terracotta bricks were fired in wood-burning ovens since the fifteenth century.
“It is in the family kiln, in Maiano, where I believe I took my first steps and where I worked since I was 10 years old. Clay has always been the common thread of my life,” says Aversa.
To be involved with creating a parish nativity crib scene has long been a common tradition for Italian children, especially in the South of Italy.
“It was not a rare thing for a boy who lived in a territory so rich in traditions – still well preserved – to work on the creation of the crib that would welcome the Bambinello on Christmas Eve. I started to make the crib at home, but soon, the space available was too limited for my imagination. So starting at the small chapel of San Rocco, in my parish, I began to create great nativity scenes for some of the churches of Sorrento.”
He continues, “I did not attend any art school and I have not had any teacher. I have always believed that it was God that made me discover a hidden gift of knowing how to shape clay.”
Marcello realised that what he did in large spaces, he could also create in miniature, using clay; concentrated sculptures that could fit on the palm of a hand but with the same detail. So 25 years ago, he took one of the most difficult decisions of his life and he left the family kiln and started a new path of sculpturing mono scenes in terracotta.
“From the linear forms of the bricks, I passed to the more articulated ones of the cribs. The beginning was very difficult, but I decided to entrust myself to God and follow my instinct: I knew I would perhaps earn less, but I could be true to myself.”
With simple tools, such as toothpicks and tweezers he manages to model small terracotta figures 8mm to 10cm tall, and then he inserts them into scenes replicating the customs and rites of the Sorrento Peninsula.
“Among the rites of my land that I reproduce are those of the Holy Week, when the 19 brotherhoods of the area organise the ‘processions of the hooded’. Each brotherhood has a different colour, mostly white and black, but there are also reds and violets. The processions begin on Holy Thursday, when the confraternities visit the altars of the Deposition. On Friday morning, at 3am, the Madonna is brought in search of the Son. Finally, on Friday evening there is the procession of the Dead Christ, together with the Mother of Sorrows.
“I create the scenario first, modelled in a single block of clay, then add all the figures and finally the vegetation and the small details. The rock and figures become one and the single block is then fired at nearly 1,000 degrees celsius.”
The clay he uses, is a mixture of what his family used in bricks for centuries and thinner clay.
How long it takes to create a piece is the most common question Marcello is asked. “For me, as for all the artists and artisans who work with passion, time does not exist. I believe that when you start to relate time to money you are no longer an artist but an entrepreneur.”
“I consider what I do, not a job, but a passion and fun, this is one of the things that makes me happiest and I thank God for it.”
In addition to his shop in Sorrento, Marcello Anversa’s work can be commissioned through his website.
Marcello Aversa Art Studio
Via Sersale 3, Sorrento (NA)
For more information visit: www.marcelloaversa.it