There is place to hope therefore that the great tradition will not die, and that the master crèche-makers in Naples and Sicily, who are the heirs of the crèche schools of the past, will go on with their amazing creations. And so in the square and churches, in the school and homes, the crèche and all the symbols of this Christian traditions are back for the joy of young and old.
The Creche tradition
The Crèche in the Home
- Before starting it is better to make a drawing of the results.
- Choose carefully the table where you will place the crèche: the ideal would be to be able to look the statues into the eyes. Place the table in a corner against the walls, and prepare the structure (terrain) with boxes in cardboard or wood, or make a frame in wood
- Prepare some chalk with water (you need to know the technique, otherwise use another method) and dip a large thick cotton cloth (like a sack) into the chalk, then place it on the frame modelling it to create valleys, roads, hills and mountains. Instead of the chalk, you can use special paper (there is paper already colored like the earth and grass). When the chalk is well dry, paint it in the needed color.
- Build small houses in polistirol, cardboard or wood.
- Look in parks or fields for twigs resembling tree trunks and branches, fix on them a piece of musk to make the foliage.
- Place the statues respecting proportions and perspective (use smaller statues for spots which should look in the distance.
- Place a lamp on the top, and paint it in blue to create the illusion of the night.
History of the Crèche
In Naples the crèche found its most congenial home: Neapolitan masters in the 17th and 18th century developed the tradition adapting landscape and characters to those of Campania, with aristocrats, merchants and common people represented in their typical daily chores or in the moments of entertainment, at banquets and in the pub, at home and in the markets, dancing and playing serenades. A further development was in the construction of the statues, which had a skeleton in wire covered in plaster or paper-pulp, with limbs in wood, head in terracotta and crystal eyes, and completely dressed from underwear to costume in real miniature clothes. Each character also had the tools typical of his or her trade and activity, true to all details.
All this gave verisimilitude to the reconstruction, which was set against the landscapes typical of the countryside or of the town: markets, pubs, homes, farmhouses, ruins. The art was funded by the royal court and by the lesser nobility, and the clothes made for the Magi and dignitaries most often imitated those of the important people of the community, and were often woven in the Royal textile mills of San Leucio. During the 17th and 18th centuries there was a crèche school also in Liguria, especially in Genoa, and in Sicily, where artisans followed the Neapolitan tradition but using wax for the heads in Palermo and Syracuse or painted terracotta in Savona and Albisola.
In the 19th century the crèche tradition became a popular feature of each family, rich and poor: in each home a landscape was built with paper-pulp or other material, and small statues in chalk or terracotta were bought from the artisans.
In Apulia, especially in Lecce, the use of paper-pulp became very sophisticated: the substance was painted or treated with fire, and adapted against frames made of iron-wire. In Rome the most prominent families competed for the best, biggest crèche, set against landscapes typical of Rome or the surrounding countryside. There was the custom then to invite citizens and tourists to visit the family's crèche.
The Folk Crèche
The Neapolitan Crèche
This crèche consists basically of two parts: a basic one, called "mistero", including Mary, Joseph, Child Jesus, angels, ox and donkey, and a complementary part called "diversorio", including everything else, that is the pub, the news of the nativity, the market and hundreds of characters. The nativity group is placed among the ruins of a temple, against a mountain background, colored so as to create the impression of a winter sunset. Among the characters there are the beggar, the gozzuto, the sleeping man, the blind man, the lame man, the gypsy, orchestra players, the women following the Magi, called georgians, tarantella dancers, tartar warriors. The statues are traditionally 30-35 cm. In the Christmas season in via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples, the "mercatino dei pastori" (shepherds' market) is held, where statues of all kinds are on sale.
The Eastern or Historical Crèche
This Crèche is based on a careful historical study of the landscape and human environment of Palestine 2000 years ago. Usually there are rock crests which forbid the sight of some scenes, which can be seen only with a changing of perspective. The natural environment is dry, the only sparse vegetation are figs, olive trees, bushes and flowers; the homes are light-colored, with rough walls and spherical domes on top, few windows and low doors, usually with one floor and an outside staircase. The garments were loose tunics with a shawl on the head, in neutral colors like ochre, ivory, brown in different hues and usually some scanty stripes or bands. Priests had richer robes with scarves and jewels.