You don't need to be religious to appreciate representations of the nativity scene like the marvellous Presepe Cuciniello at the San Martino Certosa and Museum in Naples. Neapolitan nativity scenes are particularly beautiful as each character wears real clothes and accessories that are usually handmade by craftsmen employing incredible materials such as fabrics and wax.
This year you can admire a traditional Neapolitan Baroque Crèche with a twenty-foot Christmas Tree also at the Met Museum in New York (Gallery 305; until 6th January 2016).
Set in front of a Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid from the 18th century, the tree is surrounded by twenty-two cherubs and fifty-five angels suspended above realistic figures of people and animals that form the Nativity scene at its base.
All the figures included – from the Holy Family and the angels to the shepherds, their flocks, peasants and townspeople and the three Magi (not to mention the accessories, including silver-gilt censers held by the angels, sandals, baskets of fruit and vegetable or musical instruments such as cymbals and bagpipes) – were made by a variety of artists including Giuseppe Sanmartino, Salvatore Di Franco and Nicola Ingaldi.
Most figures were made using terracotta (for the heads) and wood for the limbs; the body was usually made of wire and covered with clothes recreated using the most disparate fabrics from humble linen to rich velvet and silk, at times decorated with silver and metallic threads, leather elements and embroidered and beaded parts (like in the case of the Three Kings).
Craftsmen paid enormous attention to details and always tried to give a dynamic edge to the pieces by adding special folds and pleats in the garments or sculpting the gowns of the angels so that they looked as if they were moving in the wind.
In the display at the Met Museum there is also something that may be of interest to architecture fans - the ruins of a Roman temple, houses, and a typical Italian fountain. Have a Joyful Christmas!
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