Although this year we cannot gather at the Museum to see the Neapolitan crèche in the European galleries, an annual tradition for many, it is still possible to appreciate the joy this special tableau brings.
Back in early 2018, Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art, proposed that the Museum again install its Nativity scene, or crèche, in the galleries for the holidays. The work, a visitor favorite, hadn’t been on view since 2013, because the setting for the Holy Family and other figures was worn and needed repair—such stage sets are often fragile constructions that require replacing. The Museum’s setting needed either to be restored or refabricated. The decision was made to make a new stage set, and a group of us, from the Conservation department and the preparatory staff, started to explore the possibilities.
Around this time each year the Museum places its beloved Neapolitan crèche in the galleries. But because the Museum is temporarily closed through the holiday season, we unfortunately can’t share the crèche with you in person. I invite you, however, to read on to learn more about it, and about the history of restaging the Nativity scene.
Nearly forty years ago, in 1981, a group of twelve Museum Members with an interest in prints and drawings established Print Forum. George Evans and Kent Anderson served as the group’s first president and vice-president, respectively. One of the Museum’s nine currently active support groups, Print Forum is among the longest standing.
When I returned to the Milwaukee Art Museum after the state’s Safer at Home order, one of the first things I did was visit an old friend: Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb (1630/34) by the Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán. I’ve walked by the painting nearly every workday in my time at the Museum, but never have I been more appreciative of its quiet contemplativeness and the sense of stability it brings me. Indeed, the painting is such a fixture of the Museum that it is hard to imagine that it was ever not here, that it lived in three different countries, across two continents, before arriving in Milwaukee.