Lafranchini, Paolo (Paul) (1695–1776), stuccoist, was born 17 January 1695 in Bironico near Locarno, in the ‘Svizzera Italiana’ region of Switzerland. The Lafranchinis appear to have been members of the lesser gentry; they owned an inn (which also served as their principal residence) and a number of large buildings at Bricola. They also had their own coat of arms and the patronage of a nearby parish church. Paul Lafranchini evidently left Bironico early on in his career, for in 1721/2 he worked as a stuccoist in northern Germany under the direction of Andreas Schwartzmann for the bishop of Fulda at his castle. By 1731 he was working in England for the architect James Gibbs; it is likely that he was encouraged to go to England by the Swiss-Italian artists and craftsmen (such as Vassali and Artari) who were already working in England at the time.
Lafranchini's first recorded commission in Ireland (1739) was for the 19th earl of Kildare, to decorate the saloon and dining room at Carton, Co. Kildare. He worked on this project and at Riverstown House, Co. Cork (c.1745) with a younger brother, Filipo (Philip) Lafranchini (1702–c.1779), who was born at Bironico on 25 August 1702. The two brothers almost certainly worked together at town houses in Dublin (including Clanwilliam and Tyrone houses and 85 and 86 St Stephen's Green); country houses (including Russborough, Co. Wicklow, and Curraghmore, Co. Waterford); and St Fin Barre's cathedral, Cork, between c.1745 and 1760. In c.1760 Paul Lafranchini returned to Switzerland, where he was to spend the rest of his life, in order to be with his Swiss wife and to settle a family legal dispute. A deed dated 1770 shows that the family property had been divided up between Filipo, Paul, and Pietro-Natale Lafranchini (the stuccoists who had left the village) and the other brothers who spent their lives at Bironico. Philip Lafranchini remained in Ireland and worked alone at Castletown, Co. Kildare, between 1739 and c.1765.
The Irish career of the Lafranchini brothers covers twenty years and they are known to have worked on decorative plasterwork schemes in at least fifteen houses. They were able to command very high sums for their work (at least £501 for rooms at Carton alone), evidence of the unusually high esteem in which these craftsmen-artists were held. Prior to their arrival in Ireland plasterwork tended to consist of less fluid arrangements of strap-work, baskets of fruit, acanthus leaves, and other motifs. Their saloon ceiling at Carton depicting the courtship of the gods, with carefully balanced and crisply moulded figures and festoons in high relief, set the fashion for figurative stuccowork in Ireland for the next three decades. The two brothers, on the whole, avoided the lighter band-work that was becoming fashionable in northern Europe by the 1720s in favour of the more flamboyant and distinctly retardataire Italian baroque style. They were strongly influenced by the classical designs on engravings. Indeed, the designs for figurative wall panels at Riverstown House and 85 St Stephen's Green, depicting allegorical scenes such as ‘Apollo and the muses’ and ‘An allegory of good government’, can be traced directly to the engravings of De Rossi. The fluid style of the Lafranchini's was difficult to imitate and they did not build up a school. Robert West (qv), the Dublin-based stuccoist who produced rococo plasterwork in the 1750s and 1760s, was probably the first Irish craftsman to use a similar baroque style instead of the more severe neo-classical designs that were then coming into vogue.
Paul Lafranchini married (16 February 1732) Maria Bianca Leoni, daughter of Jacobus Franciscus and Maria Caterina Conturbi from Locarno. He died on 17 January 1776 and was buried at San Marino. His brother Philip Lafranchini probably died in Ireland; his will was proved on 28 June 1779. Another brother, Peter-Noel Lafranchini (1705–88), was also a stuccoist and worked on houses in Northumberland, Durham, and London in the 1740s. It is possible that he worked in Ireland with his brother Philip before he returned to Switzerland in 1770. A photographic record of plasterwork attributed to the Lafranchini brothers can be found in the Irish Architectural Archive, Dublin.