Martino Landi

  • Italy
  • Martino Landi’s story begins 65 years ago, in Lucca. Born in 1957 in a family who had generations of experience in the arts and craftsmanship business, he naturally showed signs of artistic inclinations from an early age. After attending Liceo Artistico, he graduated in 1979 from Accademia di Belle Arti of Florence with a degree in painting. Martino’s family of artisans had a four generation history as sacred art sculptors; he started learning the trade at age 16 working alongside his father, whose company Cromoplasto also specialised in the production of toy soldiers. Martino’s grandfather and great-grandfather had made a name for the family by producing exquisite religious Nativity figures, which got back to being the main focus of the Landis’ work around the 1970s, when the market demand for toy soldiers began decreasing. Martino’s father Mariano Landi used to produce exclusively for Florence-based company Moranduzzo, which maintained a leading position in Italy’s Christmas items industry. In 1994, due to Mariano’s health conditions, a deal was made with Moranduzzo, to which the Landis rented out their factory as well as their machinery, and which also paid Martino a percentage of the revenues, in exchange for new items to be produced every year. This partnership meant economic stability for the Landis’ business, but sadly production tapered off and in 2003 Moranduzzo bought out everything and signed a new agreement with Martino - this was a sure deal for the company as Landi Nativity figures had become renowned all over the world thanks to Martino’s craftsmanship and artistry. After 2003, Martino no longer received royalties and was paid only for the statuettes and his professional work done at Moranduzzo. In 2008, in the midst of the economic crash, Moranduzzo shut down, as it was unable to endure and overcome its competition with delocalized low-cost productions, such as China’s. The second generation of the Moranduzzo family then bought back a portion of the old business and sought out Martino’s fine-honed skills, which he continued to ply until 2018. At the same time, he continued to teach painting and drawing at Lucca’s Liceo Artistico, as he had from the age of 27. In recent years, the demand for Martino’s masterful statuettes has seen a drastic decrease: globalisation has made it unprofitable for companies to invest in craftsmanship products, as it has become clear it is more cost-effective to rely on delocalized labour. In his almost 50 years of experience, Martino has developed a perfect system for the crafting of religious figures. His work consisted in modelling human and animal-figured wax statuettes, designing them so that they could be duplicated through moulds and produced serially. Martino’s unique expertise lies in the fact that he is a sculptor, specialised in creating very small size models, as well as being capable of making various types of moulds, both metal for the production of cheap plastic figures, and silicone rubber for the production of resin figures. Moreover, at the time he curated the colouring aspect of the statuettes; he formulated specific colour combinations which were fit for both manual painting, as well as for the mechanised colouring of the cheaper religious figures. The decline of an industry: globalisation and Covid-19 The Lucchese sector, once the market leader in this industry, is now facing tough times. This sector has been caught unprepared by the effects of globalisation: nowadays, foreign producers tend to copy original products while offering low production costs, and the religious figures field has been no exception. The Covid-19 crisis has further aggravated the situation of this already struggling business, as companies who produced tourist-designed items no longer had any market demand for their products. This setback has resulted in the impossibility, Martino reports, for a generational turnover which could keep this traditional craftsmanship alive. He has not found, in today’s younger generation, someone to pass the craft down to, and it seems there is no one to inherit the legacy of knowledge and the techniques he has built up and learned over the span of half a century. If even Martino, who has a successful career behind him, can no longer find work or profit in this sector, there would be no reason for young workers to pursue this kind of career. The fate of Martino’s craftsmanship seems to be the same as that of the professionals he used to work with; he recalls fondly a smelter who would make moulds for him, before the market made him move towards other kinds of moulds. As of today, the skilled and specialised job of Martino’s collaborator has found no apprentices, hence Martino’s work, if done perfectly, would be missing a crucial step. This, again, is a consequence of the high costs of labour in Italy, especially compared to other low-cost productive systems localised abroad, mainly Asia. Digital challenges for senior artisans In today’s globalised market and digital world, Martino, who’s a senior artisan, lacks the entrepreneurial and marketing skills he would need to thrive in his craftsmanship business. The Internet has proved to be a somewhat double-edged sword: on one hand, it would have permitted the Landis to avoid some poor entrepreneurial decisions as well as making their products known in every corner of the world. On the other hand, today’s Internet means that anyone can look at and copy Martino’s work; clients can compare prices and choose the cheapest options, to the detriment of quality. Martino’s work has not found much benefit in digitalization and modernization; when he still crafted religious figures he did sometimes use more modern machinery, but his work mainly consisted of traditional, handicrafts products. He knows that 3D machines are now widely popular and used by craftsmen in various aspects of their production, but he still hasn’t found 3D machines that can reproduce his attention to the tiniest details and handicraft know-how. He states that the most sophisticated 3D machines are usually the ones used by jewellers and orthodontists, but these refined machines generally can’t fit the size of his statues. Today Now retired from his job as Professor of Art, Martino keeps his passion alive. He stills gives private art lessons and has manifested interest in starting an animal portraits business; while he has created some beautiful paintings, he lacks the strong digital marketing skills that could be the key in making profit off his Instagram profile and Facebook page “I tuoi animali ritratti - dipinti su commissione”(Your animals portrayed - commissioned paintings). Even if it appears evident, as Martino concludes, that the market for his little artisanal masterpieces has gone through hard times, and that the industry has come to an end, he continues his work in his home in Lucca, out of love and passion.