Rediscovering Maison Rafl
Appreciation for the art of Saint Supplice
One producer of religious statuary, which I encounter often, is "Maison Raffl".
The studio had many owners, and operated between 1857 and 1920. Originally French, they also acquired a second studio in Ireland. As the company's production diminished, some of the moulds found their way to the U.K. and some of the figures are still produced to this day.
Raffle of Paris dominated religious statuary for Churches during the nineteenth century and enjoyed a heyday in commercial religious art production. Their labels changed according to who was the owner of the studio at any given time; Maison Rafl was also known as "La statue Religeuse" or "Raffle et Cie."
Figures were usually produced in plaster, which kept costs reasonable and were thus favoured by parish priests; particularly by the order of Saint Sulpice who recognised this as a positive way to assist the faithful in encouraging their prayer lives in the home. This is why the art produced by Maison Raffl, is referred to as being modelled in the "Sulpicienne style." Its a term used to describe figures which are appealing, easily comprehended and finely modelled.
This style is in keeping with the long held use of imagery to catechise the faithful, especially in times past when many people were uneducated and illiterate through no fault of their own. Images made church teachings accessible and thereby aided evangelisation.
Maison Raffl produced works of all sizes, (including the statue of the Virgin of the Rosary in Lourdes, and the bambina Maria). They utilized many different materials ranging from bronze to cast iron and even a type of Papier mache, or compressed cardboard. (Papier Mache has been used for furnishings such as chairs for over several centuries!)
Statuary was mainly sold through their catalogues. These were illustrated by engravings and early photographs. Although they specialized in the religious sector, their products included furniture, consoles, pedestals, and other items.
The House of Raffl manufactured in tens of thousands. Between the years 1871 -77 they produced over 62,000 figures. Their statuary was installed in churches throughout France and also exported worldwide.