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Neapolitan Crib

Inv. No. CE3/01817-CE3/01844

This nativity scene, dating from the 18th Century, comprises 29 figurines of various sizes, ranging from 10 to 40 centimetres: the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and the Infant Jesus, two angels, the Three Wise Men, 14 figures representing traditional characters (shepherds, merchants, musicians and dancers amongst others), and seven animals. The figurines are made of wire covered in hemp, with terra-cotta heads, wooden limbs, glass eyes, and clothes made of contemporary textiles. As well as these materials, there are others that are used for the various characters’ accessories: coral beads and pearls, ivory castanets, metal stirrups and crowns, and silver incense burners, among others. The fabrics (cloth, silk, gold thread, satin, etc...) were made in the Royal Silk Factory, founded by Charles III in San Leucio near Naples. The carving of the sculptures can be attributed to various 18th century Neapolitan sculptors.

This type of elaboratenativity scene reached its apogee in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, in the second half of the 18th century, going beyond the religious sphere to engage the Court, the nobility, the bourgeoisie, and eventually the common people. The tradition of the presepio (the nativity scene) was encouraged by the various viceroys of Naples, and later. King Charles III of Spain, founder of the Porcelain Factory in Capodimonte, played a major role by commissioning a set of figures for the palace’s own nativity scene. Neapolitan nativity scenes are known for their spectacular set designs and for their abundance of figures, which include popular scenes and highly realistic and expressive characters, with a wealth of iconographic and ethnological interest. Neapolitan nativity scenes also feature detailed landscapes, often placing the manger in a ruined pagan shrine, reminiscent of the recent excavations at Herculaneum, rather than the cave of Franciscan tradition, and surrounding it withas well as houses and other architectural elements. Lighting effects were another features.

This nativity scene was purchased by the Ministry of Culture in Madrid’s Sala Retiro auction during Christmas 2002, for the González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts.

Item displayed in the ground floor courtyard.


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