The Neapolitan nativity scene has very ancient origins, it is said that the first of these nativity scenes was actually built around 1200, only to develop in the following centuries. In Naples the tradition of the nativity scene took hold more than in other places and not only a magnificent nativity scene was set up every year at the court, but also in the homes of the people people delighted in producing handmade nativity scenes with passion. Starting from 1600 the nativity scene began to expand, the Baroque spread in Naples, and this artistic current did not fail to influence the Neapolitan nativity scene as well; the scene widens, in the crib is now reproduced not only the nativity, with the classic hut, but also everything that surrounds it, shops with exhibited merchandise, scenes of daily village life, but also episodes of life in Naples begin to be reproduced in the crib. The real turning point, however, took place in the eighteenth century, Naples experienced an era of both artistic and cultural splendor and the rich and the nobles began to commission nativity scenes from real artists with excellent results. Currently the tradition continues undaunted, and precisely in Naples there are markets for statuettes and crib items among the most evocative in the world, since you can find everything there; in addition to this, many historical nativity scenes are kept in museums, among which the Museum of the Certosa di San Martino, opened in Naples, just think, in 1866, certainly stands out.
The Neapolitan crib, we said, broadens its horizons by offering glimpses of everyday life but deeply linked to the Catholic world, compared to a traditional crib the Neapolitan one has developed some places that are typical of these cribs. The market is certainly one of the most important places, which has always been the economic center of every city, the market represents all the arts and crafts, which are also presented with a typical half-day scheme as follows: January, butcher or butcher; February, ricotta and cheese seller; March, poultry seller; April, egg seller; May, a woman who sells cherries; June, baker; July, tomato seller; August, seller of watermelons; September, farmer or sower; October, vintner; November, chestnut seller; December, fishmonger. The river, a symbol of connection between life and death, with clear reference to the Acheron. The bridge, symbol of the passage between the world of the living and that of the dead. The well, again a link between two worlds, this time precisely between the underground world and the surface; all three are recurring symbols in Neapolitan popular culture. The oven, a deeply Christian connection, since it represents bread, one of the two symbols of the Eucharist. The tavern, a very important building not present in traditional nativity scenes, as we know the story told by the gospel tells of the refusal of many hostels to host the Holy Family, the Neapolitan crib takes this concept to the extreme by making the tavern represent all the evils of the world . The last typical place of the Neapolitan crib is the Church with the crucifix, this building is clearly anachronistic and not present in the traditional nativity scenes, since it is intended to celebrate the birth of Jesus who will then die on the cross thirty three years later.
Perhaps the main character of this crib is Benito, its importance lies in the fact that this character represents the link between the people (represent the real world) and the crib, Benito is in fact the one who dreams of the crib. The vinaio and Cicci Bacco, the vinaio represents, together with the oven and the baker, the Eucharist (bread and wine) while Cicci Bacco is its exact contrast, since it represents pagan mythology in a word. The two companions, intended as Zì Pascale and Zì Vicienzo, represent Carnival and Death, and are deeply linked to Neapolitan popular culture. The harlot, this figure is very important because it represents the contrast with the purity of the Virgin in the hut, the harlot has a precise location, her figurine must in fact be placed near the tavern, which as we have already said is the symbol of evil of the world, moreover it must be behind the hut where the baby Jesus is born. The monk, this figure very simply represents the union between the sacred and the profane, as the church and the crucifix is an anachronistic figure. The fishmonger, or fisher of souls, is also a figure linked to popular culture, but it is also linked to Christian culture, being the fish one of the first symbols of the Catholic religion. The gypsy, a key figure who represents the path of Christ's life, knows how to predict the future and is represented with a box of tools, including the nails representing the crucifixion. The Magi are characters that we know very well, in the Neapolitan crib these characters are positioned to the east, that is where it is thought they came from to venerate the unborn child. The last character is Stefania, a young virgin who goes to worship Jesus Children but rejected by a girl who is not yet a mother, Stefania then deceives the angels by wrapping a stone in swaddling clothes simulating a child, on December 26th, the stone, the presence of Jesus is transformed into a real child, who then becomes St. Stephen.
From earth to heaven.
The influence of the Aldeia da Terra project in the conception of a new artistic lan-guage.
The barrística, also the art of the figured in clay, although with previous manifestations founded schools in Portugal, namely in Barcelos, Caldas da Rainha and Estremoz, from the middle of the 18th century. This happened from consolidation of the introduction of the Nativity representation in Portugal, by the construction of the Palace of Mafra and from its Italian influences. Today as a manifestation of folk art is a tradition. How-ever, and especially since the 1970s, many contemporary craftsman / artists look for different expressions in this art. These manifestations, which go beyond the themes of the sacred and profane, of rurality and traditions, often also cross the boundary of what is conventionally called Craft, entering into the universe of erudite or more sub-jective Art and its languages and symbols.
Aldeia da Terra was a project that consciously used the themes of tradition but intro-duced others: The caricature, the social portrait, the humor and the irreverence, ex-ploring new limits. One of these limits, which I propose to explore better in this Mas-ter's work, with the proposal of a new language in barrística, is precisely the indefinite frontier that eventually separates the so-called "Craftwork" from "Art".
The contribution outlines the events of the ancient eighteenth-century nativity scene of the church of Sant'Angelo in Ruvo di Puglia, entrusting the narration to archival documents, the pages of the Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno and the memories of the elderly. The images presented have a double function: they provide a useful tool for comparison between the ancient monumental nativity scenes and the modern ones but at the same time they preserve the memory of this important testimony of faith and devotion.
Published in: "Writings of yesterday and today for the history of the church of S. Angelo di Ruvo di Puglia", edited by C. Bucci, CSL Pegasus Edizioni, 2018
The first mention of a nativity scene in Naples appears in an instrument, that is a notarial deed, dated 1021, in which the church of Santa Maria "ad praesepe" is mentioned (Luigi Correra, Il presepe a Napoli, fasc. IV, pag. 325 , University of Palermo). In a text of 1324 reference is made to a "chapel of the crib of the house of Alagni"in Amalfi (Stefano de Caro et al., Intangible heritages of humanity. The cultural district of the crib in Naples, Editor's Guide). In 1340 Queen Sancia d'Aragona (wife of Robert of Anjou) gave the Poor Clares a nativity scene for their new church [without source], of which today the statue of the Madonna remains in the national museum of San Martino.
One of the clearest examples of Neapolitan crib is given by the terracotta manufacture with pieces dating back to the eighteenth century which is located in the elliptical room of the Royal Palace of Caserta. This is the ex novo preparation, completed in 1988, of what was once the Court crib . For its realization the same materials used at the time were used.
In the Court tradition, the figurines were placed on the so-called rock, a base structure in cork on which the different scenes of the depiction of the Nativity: the Announcement to the shepherds, the Osteria, the journey of the Magi, the choral scenes with shepherds and flocks.
The Bourbon kings had their last nativity scene set up in the Sala della Racchetta by frescoing the ceiling in simulation of the celestial vault.
(In the image: Detail of the nativity scene of the Royal Palace of Caserta)
Other examples date back to 1478, with a nativity scene by Pietro and Giovanni Alemanno of which twelve statues have survived, and the Nativity marble of 1475 by Antonio Rossellino, visible in Sant'Anna dei Lombardi.
In the fifteenth century there are the first real sculptors of figures. Among these we should mention in particular the brothers Giovanni and Pietro Alemanno who in 1470 created the wooden sculptures for the representation of the Nativity. In 1507 the Lombard Pietro Belverte sculpted 28 statues in Naples for the friars of the church of San Domenico Maggiore. For the first time the crib was set in a cave of real stones, perhaps coming from Palestine, and enriched with a tavern.
In the 1532 century it recorded some innovations: Domenico Impicciati was probably the first to create terracotta statuettes for private use. One of the characters, another novelty, took the guise of the client, the noble of Sorrento, Matteo Mastrogiudice of the Aragonese court.
In 1534, Saint Cajetan of Thiene arrived in Naples who had already shown great love for the crib in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Gaetano's skill increased the popularity of the crib and the one built in the hospital of the Incurables was particularly appreciated. And it is precisely St. Cajetan of Thiene who is referred to as the "inventor" of the Neapolitan nativity scene and as the one who started the tradition of setting up the nativity scene in churches and private homes on the occasion of Christmas . The baroque crib is due to the Piarist priests in the first twenty years of the seventeenth century. The figurines were replaced by articulated wooden mannequins, covered with fabrics or clothes. The very first Neapolitan mannequins were human-sized and then shrunk to around seventy centimeters. The most famous crib was built in 1627 by the Piarists to the Duchess. The church of the Piarists dismantled it every year to reassemble it the following Christmas: this was also an innovation because until then the cribs were fixed.
In 1640, thanks to Michele Perrone, the mannequins retained the wooden head and limbs, but were made with an iron wire core covered with tow that allowed the statues to assume more plastic poses. Towards the end of the seventeenth century the theatricality of the Neapolitan crib was born, enriched by the tendency to mix the sacred with the profane, to represent in every art the everyday life that animated squares, streets and alleys. Statues of popular characters such as dwarves, women with goiter, beggars, tavernari, hosts, cobblers, or the representation of the humble and the derelict: the people among whom Jesus was born appeared in the crib. Particularly significant was the addition of the remains of Greek and Roman temples to underline the triumph of Christianity that arose over the ruins of paganism, according to an iconography already well rooted in painting.
In the eighteenth century the Neapolitan crib experienced its golden age, leaving the churches where it was the object of religious devotion to enter the homes of the aristocracy. Nobles and wealthy bourgeois competed to set up increasingly sophisticated scenographic systems. Giuseppe Sanmartino, perhaps the greatest Neapolitan sculptor of the eighteenth century, was very skilled in shaping terracotta figures and started a true school of nativity artists.
The scene moves more and more outside the group of the holy family and more secularly takes an interest in shepherds, street vendors, the Magi, the anatomy of animals. Although Luigi Vanvitelli defined the crib art "a little girl", all the great sculptors of the time ventured into it until the late nineteenth century.
Goethe describes the Italian nativity scene in his own I travel to italy of 1787:
"Here is the time to mention another entertainment that is characteristic of the Neapolitans, the Nativity scene [...] A light stage is built in the shape of a hut, all adorned with evergreen trees and saplings and there we put the Madonna, the Child Jesus and all the characters, including those who soar in the air, sumptuously dressed for the feast […]. But what gives the whole show a note of incomparable grace is the background, in which Vesuvius and its surroundings are framed. "
In the seventeenth century the crib expanded its scenario. The grotto of the Nativity was no longer represented, but also the world profane exterior: in pure Baroque taste, the representations of taverns spread with fresh meats and baskets of fruit and vegetables well exposed and the scenes became sumptuous and detailed (Michele Perrone was among the main artists in this field), while the characters became smaller: wooden or papier-mâché mannequins will also be preferred in the eighteenth century.
The golden age of the Neapolitan crib is the eighteenth century, when Charles III of Bourbon reigned. Thanks to the artistic and cultural flourishing in that period also the shepherds changed their appearance. The patrons were no longer only the religious orders, but also the rich and the nobles.
One of the richest and largest collections of nativity scenes in the world can be found in the Bavarian National Museum (Bayerisches Nationalmuseum) in Munich. Most of the collection came to the museum from Max Schmederer's private collection.
But the Museum of the Certosa di San Martino is certainly the reference point for studies on the Neapolitan nativity scene, in addition to the rich nativity scenes still preserved intact in Naples and elsewhere. Perhaps the most famous and acclaimed example of a Neapolitan nativity scene is the Cuciniello crib made between 1887 and 1889 and exhibited in San Martino another famous, sometimes exhibited in the royal palace, is the Banco di Napoli Nativity scene which also has statuettes made in the eighteenth century by Lorenzo Mosca.
In the twentieth century this tradition gradually disappeared, but today large nativity scenes are regularly set up in all the main churches of the Campania capital and many Neapolitans still set it up in their homes.
A particular meaning can be attributed to each character of the nativity scene and even to the individual elements that make up the whole picture.
Benino or Benito : This figure is a reference to what is stated in the Holy Scriptures: "And the angels gave the announcement to the sleeping shepherds". Awakening is also considered to be rebirth. Finally Benino or Benito, in the Neapolitan tradition, is also the one who dreams of the crib  and - again in the Neapolitan tradition - woe to wake him up: suddenly the crib would disappear.
The vinaio and Cicci Bacco: The path of the Neapolitan crib is also a representation of the "religious revolution" that will take place with the death of the Messiah. In fact, the wine and the bread will be the gifts with which Jesus will institute the Eucharist, spreading the message of death and resurrection to the Kingdom of Heaven. But opposed to this, there is the figure of Cicci Bacchus, a legacy of the ancient pagan divinities, god of wine, who often appears in front of the cellar with a flask in his hand. In Naples he is known as Ciccibacco 'ncoppa a' votte (Ciccibacco on the barrel) and drives a cart that is pulled by one or two oxen .
The fisherman: is symbolically the fisher of souls. The fish was the first symbol of the Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire. In fact, aniconism, that is the prohibition of depicting God, applied until the third century, led to the need to use symbols to allude to the Divinity. Among these was the fish, whose Greek name (ichthys) was an acronym of «'Ιησοῦς Χριστός Θεoῦ Υιός Σωτήρ (Iesùs CHristòs THeù HYiòs Sotèr)» ie "Jesus Christ Son of God and Savior" .
The two cronies: the two cronies, zi 'Vicienzo and zi' Pascale, are the personification of Carnival and Death. In fact, at the Fontanelle cemetery in Naples, a skull was shown indicated as “A Capa 'e zi' Pascale” to which prophetic powers were attributed, so much so that people asked him to ask for advice on the numbers to play in the lotto.
The monk: it is read in an irreverent key, as a symbol of a union between the sacred and the profane that takes place in the Neapolitan crib.
The gypsy: she is a young woman, with broken but flashy clothes. The gypsy is a character traditionally able to predict the future. There are various interpretations of this figure. Some see his presence as a symbol of Christ's drama because he carries with him a basket of tools of iron, the metal used to forge the nails of the crucifixion, therefore a sign of misfortune and pain. Much more often, however, the gypsy in the crib is depicted with a baby in her arms, therefore also a symbol of motherhood and not necessarily of misfortune and pain. He is also certainly heir to the figure of the Cumaean Sibyl .
Stefania: She is a young virgin who, when the Redeemer was born, walked towards the Nativity to adore him. Blocked by the angels who forbade unmarried women to visit the Madonna, Stefania took a stone, wrapped it in swaddling clothes, pretended to be a mother and, deceiving the angels, managed to arrive in the presence of Jesus the next day. In the presence of Mary, a miraculous miracle took place: the stone sneezed and became a child, Santo Stefano, whose birthday is celebrated on December 26th.
The harlot: Erotic symbol par excellence, opposed to the purity of the Virgin, it is placed near the tavern, as opposed to the Nativity that is behind it.
The Three Wise Men: They represent the nocturnal journey of the comet that joins with the birth of the new "sun-child". In this sense we must interpret the Christian tradition according to which they moved from the east, which is the starting point of the sun, as is also clear from the image of the twilight that can be seen between the vaults of the Arab buildings. Originally represented on the back of three different animals, the horse, the dromedary and the elephant representing respectively Europe, Africa and Asia. The word magi is the plural of magician, but to avoid ambiguity it is used to say magio. They were wise men with royal and priestly powers. The Gospel does not speak of their number, which tradition has fixed at three, based on their gifts, gold, frankincense, myrrh, which was then assigned a symbolic meaning. The aesthetic solutions adopted for the positioning of the Magi on the scene are many, often original but all artistically valid.
The sellers: one for each month of the year: January butcher or butcher February seller of ricotta and cheese March poultry and bird seller April egg seller May represented by a married couple carrying a basket of cherries and fruit June baker or farinaro July seller of tomatoes August seller of watermelons September seller of figs or sower October vintner or hunter November seller of chestnuts December fishmonger or fisherman.
The market: In the Neapolitan crib of the '700 the various work activities represent, as in a snapshot, the main trades that take place throughout the year. So it is possible to interpret arts and crafts as personifications of the months following this pattern:
The bridge: clear symbol of passage and is connected to magic. Some Neapolitan fables tell of three children killed and buried in the foundations of the bridge in order to magically keep the arches steady. It therefore represents a passage between the world of the living and that of the dead.
The oven: clear reference to the new Christian doctrine which sees its foundations in bread and wine, at the moment of the Eucharist, as well as representing a typically popular profession.
Church, crucifix: The presence of a church, as well as of the crucifix, testifies to the anachronistic nature of the Neapolitan nativity scene which is set in the 18th century.
The tavern: It leads, first of all, to the risks of traveling. In contrast, precisely because the Gospels tell of the refusal of taverns and inns to give hospitality to the Holy Family, the desecrating banquet that takes place there is a symbol of the wickedness of the world that the birth of Jesus comes to illuminate.
The river: Flowing water is a symbol present in all mythologies related to death and divine birth. In the case of the Christian religion, it refers to the liquid of the maternal fetus but, at the same time, to the Acheron, the river of the underworld on which the damned are ferried.
The well: connection between the surface and groundwater, its history is full of anecdotes and superstitions, which make it a place of fear. One above all, the one for which once we were careful not to draw water on Christmas Eve: it was believed that that water contained evil spirits capable of possessing the person who had drunk it.
The true scope and cultural legacy of the Neapolitan nativity scene reside in the realism of its representations. It is no longer just a religious symbol, but a descriptive, identifying and unifying tool of the community to which it belongs, in its detailed composition. It could perhaps be said that the Neapolitan crib was and remains a vehicle of identification of the "Neapolitan gens" and the forerunner of that realism that characterized Neapolitan theatrical representations and film productions.
Today some shepherds they also produce shepherds who reflect the personalities of our times. Along via San Gregorio Armeno there are permanent exhibitions and artisan shops that allow you to buy in addition to the classic statuettes, shepherds depicting modern characters such as Totò, Pulcinella or political personalities.
In many places in Campania there are associations and groups of people who repeat the ritual every year: at the beginning of November they start the construction of outdoor nativity scenes that invite you to visit them during a walk. There are also exhibitions that are set up in that period.
Moreover, nowadays, the "classic" Neapolitan nativity scene has evolved: news of new and young artists who have modernized the art of the nativity scene is increasingly frequent, creating always new and original nativity scenes, miniature nativity scenes, cribs. 'interior of light bulbs, nativity scenes inside a mussel, a dried rose and even inside a lentil and on a pinhead (by the master of art Aldo Caliro) thus creating the smallest nativity scene in the world .
The Neapolitan nativity scene has influenced several artistic creations, including:
In the second half of the eighteenth century, to the classic scenes of the Neapolitan nativity scene - Nativity, Ad, Tavern, Procession of the Magi, Angels - a large number of other scenes are added, especially in the countryside and in the country. There are orchestras that cheer the patrons at the tavern and the dinner of nobles and bourgeois, episodes of folk dance, fruit and vegetable markets, bread and fish stalls, blacksmith and carpenter workshops, sale of cured meats and cheeses, peasants at work in the fields and even the grotto of the bandits, armed with guns and trombones. Even the Procession of the Magi it breaks up and is enriched with various scenes: odalisques in sedan chairs, jugglers, players, horses with staff, mules loaded with plates and silver cups, filigree or embossed and chiseled. These new scenes, realized in a realistic way, employ a large number of objects: a wealth of representation that has no equal in any other crib culture.
Manufactures were also employed that manufactured objects of common use, such as pottery and ceramics, such as silk fabrics in cotton cloth, as musical instruments but the contribution of individual craftsmen was extraordinary. We came to specialization: there were those who made only baskets, or cages for rabbits and poultry, or straw tables and chairs, or pipes, or wigs for the nobles, or necklaces and coral jewelry even the wings of angels and the feet of shepherds they were made by skilled craftsmen. Festive and extravagant the Procession of the Magi, following the example of the embassies that arrived in Naples from the East in the eighteenth century, it was enriched with figures, such as Circassians, Turks and even Chinese, and therefore also with objects inspired by the traditions of their peoples. The Collar of the Order of San Gennaro was sometimes hung around the neck of the Magi, an honor created by King Charles III of Spain in 1738.
The luthier Antonio Vinaccia, belonging to a family of Neapolitan luthiers, built perfectly functioning guitars, violins, lutes and violas in scale. They were used for the orchestras that enlivened the dinners of the bourgeois and nobles and the rustic table of the customers at the tavern. In the Neapolitan crib scenes of folk dance were made with tambourines and triccaballacche and small orchestras were placed under the balconies, to serenade. In the nineteenth century mandolins and colascioni made their appearance. Even the oriental they were equipped with brass trumpets and trombones and percussion instruments. Among the musical instruments preserved in Munich, at the Bavarian National Museum, there is a tiny one lyre guitar or lyre guitar, an instrument that became fashionable in Naples in the early Empire and typical of the workshop of the luthier Gennaro Fabbricato.
The non-functioning stringed musical instruments were made with a wooden core covered with a sheet of turtle, to simulate the wooden part. The decoration was in flakes of ivory and silver plates.
Le nature morte presepiali si ispirano alle nature morte seicentesche di scuola napoletana: è questo un argomento studiato con grande attenzione  . Per riprodurre la trasparenza della frutta, così come interpretata magistralmente dalla pittura napoletana seicentesca, si ricorse alla ceroplastica. Si credeva che la frutta in cera colorata fosse soprattutto opera della ceroplasta Caterina de Julianis al contrario a Gennaro Ardia - modellatore di cui si sa poco o nulla, vissuto tra Settecento e Ottocento - sono da attribuire i delicatissimi frutti pesci e ortaggi, fatti di cere colorate e presentati dentro cestini di vimini o di corteccia d'albero.
Un capitolo a parte per le sete, a minuscoli fiorellini, prodotte dalla seteria di San Leucio,  ma servivano anche stoffe di cotone a righe per vestire gli orientali, tela di lino e merletti per le camicie e le cuffie delle donne, panno per vestire i pastori. Le sete, dette Portanova dal quartiere di Salerno dove si producevano, servirono per gli abiti delle odalische e delle ricche borghesi. Nel 1782 il re Ferdinando IV di Napoli commissionò a Saverio Gatta e a Alessandro d'Anna una serie di acquerelli che riproducevano uomini e donne nei loro costumi tipici delle varie province napoletane. Probabilmente li vide Matteo - un artigiano conosciuto oggi solo col nome e che era responsabile delle vestiture di molti presepi napoletani - e se ne servì come modello. Nel presepe napoletano entrarono così figure in rappresentanza di luoghi, anche geograficamente lontani da Napoli, ma tutti appartenenti al Regno di Napoli. Si produssero anche pizzi e passamanerie. Le ricche grisette napoletane - che erano sete laminate in oro, oppure ricamate a fiorellini con filo d'argento - entrarono nel presepe napoletano.
Anche gli armieri furono coinvolti nella realizzazione del presepe napoletano.  Servivano archibugi e schioppi per la scena dei banditi nella grotta, e servivano lance, dardi, picche, scimitarre, per armare gli orientali. Erano realizzati in ferro, e a volte in filigrana d'argento. Furono realizzate anche scimitarre in acciaio damascato, con pietre preziose incastonate, nel Laboratorio di pietre dure della Manifattura di San Carlo alle Mortelle, (Quartieri Spagnoli).
La forma del carretto derivava dal carretto normalmente in uso nelle campagne napoletane l'idea della portantina delle odalische, nel Corteo dei Magi, è stata invece il frutto di una particolare variazione sul tema del corteo degli orientali e rappresenta un'assoluta rarità. Alcuni focosi cavalli del Corteo dei Magi sono in realtà ritratti di destrieri, allora esistenti nelle scuderie reali di Napoli.
Alcune figure del presepe napoletano sono calve e hanno un piccolo gancio alla sommità del capo che serviva a fissare la parrucca, confezionata con crine o con veri capelli. Tra le altre minuterie: i cappelli di feltro e di paglia, le borse di tela a fiori, i bastoni da passeggio, le pipe, i turbanti piumati degli orientali.
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