The crib, the art of the nativity and its ancient roots on display in Castelsaraceno

Birth and history of crib art

From the first simple depictions of the Nativity, which took place in the catacombs, to complex artistic expressions that inspired the imagination of painters and artists all over the world.

With the representation of Christmas in 1223 at Greccio, St Francis of Assisi inaugurated this use by staging the world’s first living nativity scene, promoting, thanks to his fame, a new form of devotion destined to become a tradition.

The interest and diffusion of this art reached its peak during the 18th century, when we see it declined in different popular customs.

 

Puglia, Campania and Basilicata: many ways of thinking about the crib

The innovation of this consolidated tradition took place in Naples in the 18th century, when there was no longer a simple representation of the birth of Jesus. The setting changed from Palestine to the Neapolitan city, full of characters and situations that recreate scenes of daily life that evoke the soul of the city.

The most striking innovation is certainly represented by the division into two distinct blocks, the Mystery and the Diversory. In the Mystery block we find the Nativity scene consisting of the traditional hut or grotto, populated by the classic characters of the Holy Family. In the Diversorio, on the other hand, the great innovative imagination of Neapolitan craftsmen becomes more evident. Glimpses of everyday village scenes, vendors, farmers, stalls, fishmongers and gamblers make up this miniature cosmos. The beauty of this nativity scene lies in the way it reconciles spirituality and realism.

In the Apulian context, the crib’s strong point is the use of materials disguised by a colourful liveliness of colour. Strongly linked to the use of local stone, we find many examples scattered throughout the region of monumental nativity scenes distributed in all the most prestigious churches and those that pass through town life.

A popular destination that is enriched, again, by a unique and personal vision of the environmental composition. In most of the cribs, the cave is chosen, to the detriment of the stable, often decorated with stalactites that recall the karstic nature of these areas.

Throughout the territory, artists and craftsmen set up marvellous nativity scenes where the Holy Family comes to life in the privileged setting of small villages and charming historic centres that abound in this area. Using materials such as ceramics, terracotta, cork and stone, they create extraordinary compositions.

In addition, all over the region there are evocative living nativity scenes organised by cultural associations that recreate the birth of the divine child, involving the inhabitants or using performances by theatre companies and professional actors who bring to life scenes that catapult the spectator into the life of the ancient Romans.

Castelsaraceno celebrates the art of the nativity scene

The illuminations are switched on and the village prepares to welcome visitors in an enchanted atmosphere: the festivities begin. Accompanying us in this period, from 8 December to 9 January, will be the Exhibition of Nativity Scenes, open every day from 7:30 to 17:30.

The evocative setting chosen is the Chiesa Madre di Santo Spirito (Mother Church of the Holy Spirit) set in the heart of the village, a place that holds an artistic heritage of inestimable value, and will host the works of the Italian Association “Amici del Presepio” (Friends of the Crib).

The Maratea branch of the Association can boast of organising exhibitions that have hosted artists from all over Italy, namely 24 in winter and 24 in summer, which have been particularly appreciated by visitors to the Exhibition every year.

A long experience and a deep love for this art have made them a point of reference for this tradition. For the past thirty years, they have been organising local, regional and inter-regional competitions to involve and nurture curiosity about nativity scene art.

The event will involve artists from various regions who will offer a personal vision of the art of the nativity scene, creating a moment of sharing and comparison and giving prestige to a custom that is renewed year after year.

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