Food from the world, a unique ingredient: wax. The art of Paola Nizzoli Desiderato.

Paola Nizzoli Desiderato explains us with passion her art, the wax modeling, with which she made in beeswax fruit, still lifes and installations. Always passionate about rare artistic techniques, in 2006 she approached to this technique thanks to the discovery of the artificial pomology by Garnier Valletti, one of the most famous ceroplastics in Europe. It followed a long period of study and research, which will lead her to the complete mastery of this rare sculptural technique. Her Basket of Fruit by Caravaggio, faithfully reproduced in 3D and shown at GAM Milan, consecrates her as contemporary internationally renowned artist. Paola Nizzoli lives and works in Genoa and her work is represented by Galleria Salamon & C in Milan.


This is a special time for her art, inevitably linked to Expo’s theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life “. The exhibition Food in the art, the great masters from the seventeenth century to Warhol, at Palazzo Martinengo (Brescia), finds Paola Nizzoli as protagonist, with her show-closing work: a food pyramid specifically designed for the occasion, not only rich of food but also of symbols and artistic influences. Inaugurated on April 25, the exhibition Beyond life at L’Arsenale Foundation in Iseo, hosts a particular work, an allegory of rebirth. Other works will be also exhibited at the show The treasure of Italy, curated by Vittorio Sgarbi and hosted at Eataly Pavilion Expo 2015 – scheduled from 1 May – and in Lugano, from May 28 to July 5, at Intart Gallery of Silvano Lodi within Physis – Poetics in figurative art.


We interviewed Paola Nizzoli Desiderato, who, with kindness and enthusiasm, told us a little more about her artistic career.


Food and art have always been two worlds in constant “dialogue”, able to influence each other. How does this relationship influenced your artistic career? Why did you choose to capture food in your works?


My interest in the representation of food actually comes from the discovery of the technique with which it is realized, the wax modeling, already used in 1600 in the study of anatomy and during the 18th Century in the field of botany. The passion for nature, a particular interest in botany and a visit to the collection of Francesco Garnier Valletti were the starting point of my artistic career, made ​​of initial studies and researches to learn how to model the beeswax and then continue experimentation. After two years of historical and bibliographic research, today I have created about 600 models.


About ceroplastic, this ancient technique that you brought to a new level, can you explain what it is, what are the technical difficulties and which are the great possibilities it offers in the specific branch of artificial pomology, the accurate and three-dimensional reproduction of fruit and vegetables ?


Ceroplastic is an ancient art of reality reproduction that involves the use of beeswax, used since ancient times by artists and scholars. In botany, in fact, it played a key role in the documentation of the species for scientific purposes, just like botanical gardens and representations on paper. Until 17th Century, however, the use of wax was mainly related to the artistic imitation of nature or as preparation for sculptures in bronze or marble. The technique of ceroplastic is carried out by wax melting: once it has been melted, it is drained into a mold and, when ready, the model is extracted and retouched with specific tools. Typically, a color pigment base is used during melting and then the shape painted with the brush. It is just like making oil paintings, but in three dimensions.

Regarding the difficulties of wax modeling, well, they are various. Beeswax is a continuous discovery, a different experience each time, an incessant study. First of all, there is not a “guide recipe “, as the bees that produce it are constantly changing the environment in which they live: places, seasons, age and pollen are some of the factors which influence and change the quality and characteristics of the wax, reason why it is then difficult to follow guidelines for modeling. If I find the wax suitable to shape, for example, a lemon, I can’t be sure that the next time that same wax, with those determined characteristics, will be available. For this reason, for each model that I create, I also complete a technical explanation.

Each wax then, reacts differently to the coloration. Some waxes are waterproof, so you need to look for a “gripping”, while others absorb too much and it is unpredictable to know how the color will react.

So, it is a kind of art that requires a lot of study and continuous involvement. For this reason, it is also difficult to teach or be followed.


In recent years, food has become object of attention of all the major media and the subject at the center of a lively cultural and political debate. Expo 2015 “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” has sealed the centrality of food for the future of mankind and the planet. What is your personal vision and what messages you aim to convey with your art?


The subject of food and nutrition awareness is now a living matter, even more with the Expo event. It is an issue that I have been interested for years; in fact, I have always tried to be aware of the origin of food that I eat. Through my work, I send the message of the acceptance of biodiversity: my fruits are represented as nature creates them, in their endless variety and irregular beauty. They are much more realistic than fake fruit exposed in some supermarket shelves, with that perfect texture and the result of copious irrigation of harmful pesticides.

The work on display in Brescia is a good example of message related to food: it’s the food pyramid, made of 1,927 pieces. At the bottom are placed fruits and vegetables, fundamental elements for nutrition, on the floor above we can find dairy products, wine and carbohydrates: not lacking the references to art, for example the cottage cheese is a clear quote to “I mangiatori di ricotta” di Vincenzo Campi . The central plan is filled with animal proteins. The meat is placed under a glass bell, as allegory of the sublime: the plucked goose with the deep eye, intimates a reflection on the way animals are reared and killed. Sense of humor is another important part of my work, interpreted through the heads: turnip head (Italian common saying “testa di rapa” means “thickhead”), pumpkin head and cabbage head. I also mentioned Piero Manzoni, with my “Artist’s Tomato Sauce “!


In your constant work of research and creation, you made ​​every type of food. There is something you still miss to do? What will beyour next challenge?


What I still have to do? Everything! There are so many new things to find and to be experienced. The challenges are always a lot to me and the curiosity is a wellspring. For example, I thought I would have never represent meat, and then I did it. Even only finding fruit for me is a daily challenge. It happens that they send me fruit from all over the world, such as almonds from Afghanistan, to recreate in them wax. The scientific aim of my work is one of the aspects that most satisfies me.

Okay, so, however, I would say that the “Vanitas” that I created for the exhibition at L’Arsenale Foundation has been the challenge that for a long time I wanted to deal with. I worked the wax in a new way, using the technique of Medardo Rosso, creating a symbol of the cycle of life, the metaphor of death as a function of rebirth: a head from which comes a withered plant, flanked by a skull from whose inside come out roots and flowering branches. The whole figure is placed under a tap, reference to water, symbol of life.

photo credits: ©Laura Ferrari

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