One of the last great figurine masters was Father Benedetto Papale, friar of the order of the Minims.

He was known for designing the night lighting of the monumental staircase of Santa Maria del Monte in Caltagirone.

He created the method that used paper “roof tiles” in three colors, white, red and green, opaque or transparent, lit within by terracotta oil lamps and arranged in an original pattern that creates extraordinary lighting effects. 

Some of his most important works were the permanent monumental nativity scene made for the church of Santa Maria di Betlem in Modica, built together with the Bongiovanni Vaccaro workshop: Giuseppe, his sons Salvatore and Giacomo and his student Giacomo Azzolina.

Its over sixty terracotta figurines are set in a landscape that evokes the local countryside. It was presented to the public in 1881, the same year that Giuseppe Verga’s Malavogliawas published.


The exceptional quality of these terracotta figurines is that they anticipated the modes of realist representation.

These sculptures portray their humble peasants, shepherds and commoners with true, vivid realism. These characters are the same type found in Verga’s work. They became collector pieces among the wealthy classes, status symbols.

This figurative realism preceded the literary one to the extent that it was even mentioned by Verga in the pages of Mastro don Gesualdo (1889), where he talks about Bongiovanni Vaccaro’s nativity scenes as “must-haves” for the nobles of the day.