Stucco is the term widely used in Europe to describe decorative plasterwork of the early modern period, while plaster or plasterwork were the most commonly used in Britain and Ireland in the eighteenth century. 

European Stuccatori 

Giuseppe Artari was frequently collaborator with the architect James Gibbs, including work on St Martin-in-the-Fields (1722-26), Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire, 1725, Houghton Hall (1726), Radcliffe Camera, Oxford (1744-5). The execution of the magnificent marble hall at Clandon Park, Surrey (destroyed by fire in 2015) by Giacomo Leoni is attributed to Artari and fellow Ticinese stuccadore Giovanni Bagutti.

The plasterwork ceiling in the Entrance Hall at Clandon Park, Surrey. The ceiling is attributed to Giuseppe Artari. Photo: The National Trust.

Giovanni Bagutti was another Ticinese stuccatore and frequent collaborator with the Artari workshop and architect James Gibbs. He worked at Castle Howard, Cannons, Middlesex, and at the Octagon, Twickenham (Gibbs), and Moulsham Park, Essex (Leoni).

Entrance hall at Barnsley Hall, Gloucestershire with stuccowork by Giovanni Bagutti and Giuseppe Artari. Photo: Country Life.

The employment of Ticinese stuccatori extended to Ireland where the Lafranchini brothers migrated c.1738 prior to work on Carton House with the architect Richard Castle.

The saloon at Carton, Co. Kildare. Photo: Stephen Farrell.

The Lafranchini became frequent collaborators with Castle whose interiors exhibit a taste for rich sculptural ornament. They dominated stucco production in Ireland for three decades, though challenged in the mid 1750s by the arrival of the Flemish stuccatore Bartholomew Cramillion who brought a lighter French idiom to Irish domestic interiors.

No. 85 St Stephen’s Green by Richard Castle with stuccowork by Paolo and Filippo Lafranchini, c. 1740. Photo: Stephen Farrell.
The Apollo Room, No. 85 St Stephen’s Green by Paolo and Filippo Lafranchini, c. 1740. Photo: Stephen Farrell.
Bartholomew Cramillion, ‘Hibernia introducing the Arts to Ireland’ Mespil House c.1755, now at Dublin Castle. Photo: Paul Tierney, Courtesy Dublin City Council

Native plasterwork

Stairhall of Number 86 Saint Stephen’s Green, a project convincingly attributed to the workshop of Robert West. Photo: Carla Briggs, UCD

European stuccatori had advantages over native plasterers because of their highly developed figurative skills. Native plasterers often worked alongside them on large projects, producing more extensive and conventional decorative plasterwork. Like carving, this work relied on a repertoire of mouldings, enrichments and free-hand ornament. Plasterers such as Isaac Mansfield in London and Robert West in Dublin ran lucrative workshops. In Dublin a particularly vigorous and widespread form of decorative plasterwork emerged in the late 1750s, informed by the work of the Lafranchini and through Cramillion of European rococo. Known as the Dublin ‘school’ of plasterwork, this combines traditional classical vocabulary with rocaille ornament and animated modelling of birds and musical instruments. Alongside Robert West, other local firms included those of Patrick and John Wall, James Byrne and James McCullough.  

Top left: Chinoiserie birds by the workshop of Robert West at Number 20 Lower Dominick Street c. 1757. 
Lower left: Rocaille-backed C scrolls and fighting birds, 86 Saint Stephen’s Green.
Right: Staircase brackets, Regent House, Trinity College Dublin.
Photos: Paul Tierney Photography. Courtesy of Dublin City Council.

Further reading

Geoffrey Beard, Decorative plasterwork in Great Britain, 2nd edition , Shaftesbury, 2011; first published London, 1975

Geoffrey Beard, Stucco and decorative plasterwork in Europe, London, 1983

Christine Casey and Conor Lucey eds, Decorative plasterwork in Ireland and Europe: ornament and the early modern interior, Dublin, 2012

Christine Casey, Making magnificence: architects, stuccatori and the eighteenth-century interior, New Haven and London, 2017

C.P. Curran, Dublin decorative plasterwork of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, London, 1967

Conor Lucey, The Stapleton collection: designs for the Irish neoclassical interior , Tralee, 2007

Joseph McDonnell, Irish eighteenth-century stuccowork and its European sources, exh. cat. (National Gallery of Ireland), Dublin, 1989

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