December 21, and I have no idea how to deal with a Christmas decoration.
Due to my religion, I have never had a Christmas tree at home much less a crèche. The house where I am a guest is going to follow this tradition, therefore I am invited to come along by my hosts to explore a new world for me that in Naples starts at the famous road San Gregorio Armeno in the center of the Centro Storico (Historic Center).
As I walk along the very crowded road, I notice several small shops and colorful stalls by the dozens with artisans and craftsmen working on and displaying small delicate sculptures representing humans, shepherds, peasants, laundresses, vendors, pastures, cattle, sheep, the three kings and angels. Those figures, called Pastori, give rise to a theatrical scene, the Presepe, or nativity scene or crèche, with lights and music as main religious symbol of the Neapolitan Christmas.
My friends tell me that the construction of Neapolitan crèche traditionally begins the eighth of December from storage pulling out the “basics” of the previous year (a skeleton cork and cardboard resting on a wooden table, without pastors and various decorations) and the possible enlargement like adding the wood oven or ruscelletto (small river) with water and a few more sheep in the flock is discussed in the family and with children.
The story focuses on the birth of Christ, recalling the events of some evangelical and pastoral-bucolic images. With its origins back in the Middle Ages as a handicrafts and a folk tradition it was only in the Baroque age that it acquired a form of high artistic expression developing an interest in addition to the religious symbols (Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, Sacred Child Jesus) the small and middle class, everyday life and the agricultural or Pastoral world.
A remarkable example is the Presepe Cuciniello (Cuciniello’s crèche), which consists of 162 people, 80 animals, 28 angels, and about 450 miniature items. It is considered among the finest nativity scenes in the world and is exhibited in the San Martino Museum in Naples.
I am now watching the magnificent presepi exhibited on the first floor of number 55 San Gregorio Armenio, at the famous 1836 leading master craftsman Giuseppe Ferrigno’s shop, that the Neapolitan crèche becomes the representation of the place where both in the 1800’s and today, the sacred and profane, spirituality and daily life, prayer and irony live together in a city of contradictions.
Marco Ferrigno, Giuseppe ‘s son, explains while offering the best brown foamed expresso ever that the faces of the Pastori are made in polychrome terracotta, the eyes in crystal and their hands hand crafted in wood. The costume fabrics — sourced in antique shops and auctions throughout the year — are made from old silk factory San Leucio and embroidered in the Italian city of Modena in the manner of renaissance Turkish sultans. The family starts working on February to produce them.
The facial expressions, like the one of Carmela (one of Marco’s favorites – he likes her hair) are taken after pictures of a lady neighbor that lives next door with that name. Every year — apart from those who are the traditional characters like Quasimodo, Procida and Caprese — the personification of a new personaggio (character) of a real person is introduced to the superb family collection of presepi as a way to keep the tradition alive.
The shops offer such a vast variety of products that it is impossible to keep track of them with my camera. Whatever the subject, the statue of an animal, basket of fruit, a port fish, a mill will enrich the choreographed set of presepe-palcoscenico (crèche-set) and clearly my sharp and attentive lens.
I can easily sense an atmosphere of agitated rush around me while I walk, haunted by those terracotta figures, having the impression that they are all staring intensely at me and dramatically wondering why I haven’t picked them up yet to placed them in my crèche…. Even being a Jewish girl I am aware that everything must be ready by tomorrow evening.
Giuseppe e Marco Ferrigno: Via San Gregorio Armeno,n 8/10/55, Napoli, to order in adavance their products, please call the following number: +39081 / 552 31 48. Delivery could be as early as two weeks, and depending on the Character, a year. Average price 700 Euros per 56 cms figure. www.atreferrigno.it
Arte del Pastore e del Presepe: Via San Gregorio Armeno , 6/7 – Napoli. Tel/Fax 39 081 55 16 221. Here you can find more affordable naitivity figures and order directly on line on categories and finishes, Concetta de store owner will ship directly worldwide upon availability. www.artedelpastore.com
The permanent exhibitions:
Complesso Museale di Santa Chiara: Santa Chiara Eighteen Hundred Nativity Scene at their Chiostro, absolutely magnificent!
via Santa Chiara, 49c
80134 – Napoli
tel +39 081.195.759.15
fax +39 081.195.758.59
Museo Nazionale di San Martino
Cucciniello ‘s crib.
Museo di San Martino Largo San Martino, 5
80129 – Napoli
Tel.e Fax: 0039.081.5781769; 081.2294498
Arte Presepiale Naploetana Natale 2007 (seasonal)
Piazza della Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo (see photo gallery in last post) tel 39 33 93 61 98 02
Readings : The Metropolitan Annual Neapolitan Christmas Crib