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Art Curatorial

From the Collection— Neapolitan Crèche (Nativity Scene)

It’s that time of year again!  The Museum’s Neapolitan crèche is on view in the galleries for the holiday season. You’ll find it in Gallery 4 of the Collection Galleries, with European art.

The origin of the popular Christmas tradition of re-staging the Nativity scene is usually credited to Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223. The custom reached its artistic height in eighteenth-century Naples.  Nobles and aristocrats vied to outdo each other in presenting theatrical crèche (or presepio) displays with elaborate figures clothed in luxurious costumes.  In addition to the Holy Family, the scenes would include angels, putti, shepherds, the Magi, and a host of barnyard animals.  The most elaborate scenes would include daily life in Naples, such as the market, resulting in a lively scene mixing the sacred and the secular that could fill entire rooms.