The Neapolitan nativity scene

The Neapolitan nativity scene

When we talk about the crib we immediately think of the Neapolitan one, the traditions of its composition have always remained the same over the years. In Naples, news about the nativity scene began as early as 1025 and in 1324 the Queen of Aragon gave the Poor Clares nuns a gift of a nativity scene to be placed in their church. Dating back to about one hundred and fifty years later, we remember the completely marble nativity scene built by Antonio Rossellino. Subsequently, around 1500, wooden nativity scenes began to be sculpted made up of various figurines and, in Naples, in this period the first nativity scene was built with a cave made up of real stones. In Naples the nativity scene became more and more important thanks to S. Gaetano da Thiene who built a beautiful one for a hospital. In 1600 articulated mannequins made of wood took the place of the statuettes used up to now, they were covered with cloth clothes, but there is a problem, these mannequins were tall as a person and were a bit bulky, they were then reduced to a 'height of about seventy centimeters. Until now the cribs had been built to remain fixed, while in 1627 one was built which was disassembled and reassembled during the Christmas period; a few years later even the mannequins took on more realistic positions and movements. Almost at the end of 1600 the Neapolitan cribs had a turning point, these beautiful compositions began to fill with characters who represented the jobs and life of those times such as beggars, cobblers, innkeepers, washerwomen, etc. If before the nativity scenes had always been inside churches, in the 1700s they began to capture the interest of the aristocratic classes who commissioned their preparation in their most beautiful rooms, requiring ever more particular scenarios. The sculptor of Neapolitan origins named Giuseppe Sanmartino, very skilled in building terracotta figurines, was the promoter of the school of artistic cribs.

The inevitable characters

Until now we have talked about the origins and history of the Neapolitan nativity scene, in this article we will talk about the various characters that cannot be missing inside.

The fisherman: this character is compared to a divine figure, in fact its meaning is fisher of souls.

Benino: he is a young shepherd who sleeps blissfully on straw. The angels will also give him the good news of the birth of Jesus.

The two cronies: these two characters represent the carnival and death. The head of Uncle Pascale's skeleton is located in a cemetery in Naples and the Neapolitans are convinced that it has supernatural powers.

Other characteristic and ever-present characters are the vintner and Cicci Bacchus and, finally, the Magi that we all know and all put in our crib on January 6th, Epiphany day.

Secondary characters

Then there are other secondary characters, so he says, that we can very often find in Neapolitan cribs, here they are.

The monk: this figure represents the encounter between the sacred and the profane that takes place in the Neapolitan crib.

The harlot: symbol of sin that contrasts with that of purity and candor of the Madonna. The genus is positioned near the tavern.

Stefania: the story of this virgin is very beautiful. She wanted to go to the Bethlehem grotto to adore the baby Jesus but was prevented from being married, without losing heart, she took a stone, wrapped it in a cloth and pretended to carry a child in her arms, when she came in front of Mary. the stone in swaddling clothes was transformed into a newborn: Santo Stefano.

The Gypsy: It is popular belief that these characters can predict the future. In the Neapolitan nativity scene she is represented with a basket of tools suitable for building nails, those that will then crucify Jesus Christ.

Elements of daily life

In addition to the characters described so far, inside the Neapolitan crib we find various elements that reconstruct the life of the past.

The market: this element represents the jobs that once took place, there were those who sold, those who worked iron, those who sewed shoes, etc.

The tavern: this place is seen as the den of the wickedness that is done in the world, in fact the taverns and inns did not welcome pregnant Mary and Joseph her husband.

The river: water represents both life and death, amniotic fluid and the river through which the damned are led to hell.

The oven: it is one of the shops that cannot be missing inside a nativity scene, the bread is a symbol of life and together with the wine it remembers the moment of Communion.

The bridge: in the Neapolitan nativity scene this element symbolizes the passage from life to death.

The well: it is not a positive element, it was once believed that anyone who took water from it on Christmas Eve would be possessed by the devil.

The Neapolitan nativity scene today

So far we have described the characters and "serious" elements of the Neapolitan nativity scene, but if we happen to stroll through the streets of Naples, especially in via di San Gregorio Armeno, where the famous nativity shop is located, we could not fail to notice the many figurines made in the likeness of the most popular characters of the moment: politicians, footballers, actors, etc.

The Neapolitan nativity scene - garden

On 23 and 30 December 2018 the Living Nativity Scene in Neapolitan style returns to Bisceglie. This year the Living Nativity is organized jointly between the Schàra Onlus Association and Mosquito APS, with the contribution of the Municipality of Bisceglie, Department of Culture and Tourism, relations with associations, territorial marketing and strategic planning.

Significant changes have taken place since in 2010 three young boys started this experience in the premises of the former "Bombini" orphanage and then expanded into the streets of the historic center after a few years. A lively nativity scene, as the organizers have always thought of it. Not static, just to make the visitor himself participate in the scenes and to bring to life the atmosphere of the time "in the streets of Bethlehem" thus the subtitle of the first edition, between the markets and the noisy roundabouts of cheerful children, between the tavern and the splendor of Herod's palace.

From the fifth edition, the young people of the Schàra association wanted to give an even more participatory and engaging imprint by introducing the eighteenth-century Neapolitan-style nativity scene set in the historic center of Bisceglie.

A very different style from the traditional one, with figures perhaps at first sight hilarious but with a more hidden meaning such as Pulcinella, a demonic figure, because born, according to tradition from the work of the witches, on the slopes of Vesuvius, Pulcinella represents all the small people, what it does not matter, that you do not see the harlot in the Bordello, a busty woman dressed in sumptuous but tattered clothes, it is a symbol of lust that turns its back on the cave to be a counterbalance to the fertile virginity of the Madonna.

The mother scene is obviously the nativity, placed as the Neapolitan tradition wants between the columns of a ruined Temple, evident the reference to a social order (that of ancient Rome) that crumbles under the pressure of the new Revelation quite quickly it will pass in fact from the persecutory climate to Christianity as the state religion.

A memorable edition also for the presence of the nobles, in sumptuous eighteenth-century clothes, inserted for the first time to remember the moment of maximum expansion of the Neapolitan crib in the eighteenth century when, coming out of the churches where it was the object of religious mansions of the aristocracy. Nobles and rich bourgeois competed to set up scenographic systems that are increasingly sought after to attract the rulers to their palaces.

The challenge of this year? Bring all this to an enchanted, fairytale-like garden, the Santonio Veneziani Botanical Garden, another historic place in the city of Bisceglie recovered thanks to the Mosquito association. So as to cross different principles and emotions: faith, respect for the environment, the enhancement of the commitment of stubborn young people, the meeting of two realities.

The two associative realities are in fact Mosquito and Schára onlus, already at work to bring the people of Bisceglie and all visitors on the most beautiful journey, in an experiential path among those that were the plants sought by the "Venetians", among the scents of the earth and especially between and in history.

The majestic pistachio tree almost seems to embrace the children of the Neapolitan school, while further on, as in the painting, the bougainvillea frames "the marriage of the Virgin and St. Joseph"
More than 100 figures will dress the sumptuous eighteenth-century clothes, in the heat of the fires, in the darkest and coldest night, to adore the Light that illuminates!

Admission is with a contribution, guided tour for groups (max 20 people) lasting about 30 minutes. The proceeds will be used for the recovery of the place and to cover part of the management costs of the event.

The visits are scheduled every 15 minutes, from 6 to 10 pm. To welcome the talented children of the choir directed by Anna Maria Muti, “Teatrarte”, from 18.00 to 18.30. It is highly recommended to reach the place on foot for those traveling from Bisceglie. Those arriving from other countries can look for parking near the train station or near Via San Lorenzo and Via Luigi Papagni.

In Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples the most famous

The Neapolitan nativity scene from the Ferrigno workshop in San Gregorio Armeno in Naples @LaRinascente © Ansa Look at the photos.

The nativity scene is a great Christmas tradition. Pope da Greccio (where St. Francis conceived the first living nativity scene on December 25, 1223) asked to rediscover it because "Representing the event of the birth of Jesus is equivalent to announcing the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God with simplicity and joy". The Pontiff affirmed: the crib "is like a living Gospel, which overflows from the pages of Sacred Scripture".
The nativity scene is much more than a tradition repeated without understanding it now. It is an exercise in beauty, ingenuity, creativity and tradition at the same time. But above all, it is the scene of God's greatest surprise in the world and is an honest mirror of humanity, then and today. There are the poor and the rich, the believers and the indifferent. There is darkness and there is light. There is man and there is God.
The crib has many local stories to rediscover. It can be set up in many ways without losing its original spirit which is the one remembered by Pope Bergoglio but certainly the one of choice in Italy, the most famous being the Neapolitan one. Via San Gregorio Armeno is a street in the historic center of Naples, famous for the artisan shops of nativity scenes. In the classical period there was a temple dedicated to Ceres in the street, to which the citizens offered small terracotta statuettes manufactured in the nearby shops as an ex voto. But the birth of the Neapolitan crib is much older. The custom of setting up nativity scenes in churches began to spread in the Kingdom of Naples towards the end of the 1200s. In 1600 the Neapolitan artists gave the representation of the Nativity a new connotation, also introducing scenes of everyday life and new characters here, then, the statuettes of commoners, fruit sellers, beggars appear, along with various types of figures, until reaching the apex ofcreative ideation in 1700, period in which the Neapolitan nativity scene is set, which is made for the Christmas holidays. In this representation Heaven and Hell, Good and Evil, Pagan and Christian coexist. Each single element has a precise location and a particular meaning. Today via San Gregorio Armeno is known throughout the world as the exhibition center of the craft shops that all year round make statuettes for nativity scenes, both canonical and original. Every year, in fact, some artisans create pieces with the features of contemporary characters, who perhaps stood out positively or negatively. The historic Neapolitan nativity scene, which can be seen in many churches in the city or in special exhibitions in various places in Italy (in Rome there is the traditional '100 Presepi'). This year, from 5 December in the Rinascente flagships in Milan and Rome Via del Tritone there is an entire exhibition area with handcrafted statuettes from three of the best-known workshops.
The three most famous laboratories of San Gregorio Armeno:

BOTTEGA FERRIGNO DI GIOVANNI AND MONICA GIUDICE The Bottega Ferrigno, founded by Maestro Giuseppe, Monica's father, maintains the characteristics that have made it famous all over the world unchanged. All the works are handmade, directly in the shop. In a small space, magnificent nativity scenes are made, even large ones according to an artisan know-how that has been handed down from generation to generation. The favorite scene of Giovanni and Monica is that of the Trino, which combines the Scene of the Sacred with the Nativity, the scene of the Profane, with the tavern, and the Scene of the Purification, which sees the purifying water of all the characters as protagonist. they go to Jesus.

DI VIRGILIO 1830 Di Virgilio has dedicated himself with flair and genius to the art of the nativity scene for four generations. Today it is Genny who leads the business, an exceptional master in the processing of Neapolitan terracotta, an art now of few, since the creation of objects to be inserted in the cribs requires ingenuity and dedication. The innovation brought by the young Genny Di Virgilio was to place within the secular family tradition the focus on facts and characters that characterize the current political, cultural and social sphere of our times.

Neapolitan crib

Neapolitan crib: category dedicated to Neapolitan nativity scenes, figurines made entirely by hand in Italy, to Naples, the capital of the Italian crib tradition. Each figurine represents a single piece is collectible, being handcrafted products and cared for in every detail. They are made of terracotta and covered with shaped and treated fabric. You can find figurines depicting the classic characters of the crib: baby Jesus, Maria, St. Joseph, the ox, L'donkey, three Magi, shepherds of various types e little sheep with real wool, as well as statuettes simple or with movements representatives i trades and the works in emblematic moments: the fishermen, the sheep shearer, the bagpiper, peasants and peasants, the water-seller, the chestnut-maker. Watch the videos of the movements! You will feel like you are touching them with your hand!

IF YOU NEED MORE INFORMATION: call at no. green or write us an email.

The moving statues in the Neapolitan nativity scene

The desire for realism that has characterized the Neapolitan crib since its origins has found its further evolution with the advent of moving cribs.

Also in this case Holyart can boast a really varied and rich catalog of moving figurines. The Holyart figurines come alive thanks to motorized systems, and suddenly the whole scene comes to life, showing the glimpse of an industrious village, with peasants hoeing the earth, shepherds leading the flock, women sweeping in front of the door, and so on.

Ancient gestures, ancient crafts that come to life thanks to the magic of tiny electric motors hidden in the folds of clothes, gears made by hand by highly experienced craftsmen, to recreate an inimitable magic, a timeless atmosphere. Do not you believe it? Watch the video below, and you will feel like you can touch that infinitely small world, but really perfect!


Each figurine is a unique, collectible piece, handcrafted down to the smallest detail, with clothes sewn with absolutely realistic fabrics and a hand-painted face with great expressiveness.

The Snake Charmer represents the example of impressive realism, a figure of a man who, sitting cross-legged on the ground, plays a flute to tame a snake that comes out of a vase in front of him. The statue moves left and right, with a very natural movement. The clothes, made with natural fibers, add a lot of realism to the scene.

So we have for example the Chair repairer , a 14 cm high moving figurine, representing an old craftsman intent on repairing a chair with straw. The character's hand raises and lowers thanks to the electric motor, simulating movement in a very realistic way, and the old man's serene expression is truly priceless. Like all the other figurines of the Neapolitan Nativity of Holyart, this one is also made of terracotta and dressed in cloth. The dresses are shaped to respect the lines of the body and increase the sense of movement and naturalness.

There laundress that washes the clothes in the fountain stands out not only for the veracity of the movement, but also for the richness of details of the scene represented. The woman stands next to a small structure with the roof and beams of real wood and a cork wall that mimics a red brick wall. The clothes are hung on a clothesline, while others, still to be washed, are placed on the ground. On the edge of the tub, a bar of soap that appears to have just been placed by the woman's aching hand. A warm light illuminates the whole scene and the water gushes from the fountain thanks to a recirculation pump powered by an electric motor. A figurine of just 8 cm, but which, immersed in this setting of great richness and precision, takes on a life of its own.

We conclude with a figurine in some ways emblematic, that of Nativity scene making a Nativity scene , a very special figurine, made of terracotta and handmade. It is about 12 cm high and represents a Nativity scene intent on building a Nativity scene leaning against a table. We notice the tools of the trade, the wood, the colors, the moss. A sort of meta representation: the Nativity scene shows a character who builds the Nativity scene. Just another magic of the signed Neapolitan nativity scene in motion Holyart!

Why was the Neapolitan nativity scene born in San Gregorio Armeno?

San Gregorio Armeno has been the beating heart of the city of Naples since ancient times. Here the workshops of the figurines linked to the various temples of the classical era were concentrated. In theancient Rome in fact, the artisans donated small terracotta statues to the goddess Ceres. The tradition then continued in medieval times up to the present day.

Wise men 30 cm Neapolitan nativity scene

They represent the world and time that stand still for the birth of Jesus. Traditionally there are three: Baldassarre the old, riding a black horse Gasparre the young, riding a white horse Melchior the Moor, with his tawny horse. The three horses symbolize i three moments of the day: night, noon and dawn. Their race recalls the path of the stars towards the birthplace of the Child Jesus. symbol of the rising sun.

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