Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 20, 2011

Nativity scenes in Naples

Nativity scenes, or presepe, are very popular in Italy. Many homes would have one in pride of place at Christmas time.

The tradition started with St Francis of Assisi in 1223 with a live scene. From 1700 presepe became an art form when the aristocracy began to adorn their homes with elaborate nativity scenes.

Via San Grigorio Armeno in Naples has become known as Presepe Street. There are workshops where the presepe are made and dozens of shops showing off their wares. I saw thousands of incredibly detailed presepe when I was there.

As well as the stable with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in the manger, nativity scenes can grow to include village scenes. Some extended presepe would need a whole room to themselves.

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An empty village waiting to be decorated.

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Here is one with people.

There is no end to the variety of things you can add to your presepe.

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Some are mechanised to make them even more interesting.

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You can keep an eye on Mary keeping an eye on her baby.

There was a tiny museum as part of Naples underground featuring old presepe.

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As well as the more traditional figures to add to your scene more modern figurines are available. You may wish to include Silvio Berlusconi or Amy Winehouse or a whole football team.

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People love to visit the presepe area in Naples all year, but at Christmas it becomes crowded with those looking for the perfect addition to their nativity scene.

It would be fun to be there among the Christmas lights watching the tiny scenes eagerly trying to appeal to someone and be taken home to be adored.

To see more on amazing Napoli click here, here and here.


Responses

  1. Interesting! How big are these displays?

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    • They vary, some would only be about 20 centimeters and others up to a metre. The detail in some of them is incredible.

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  2. Wow. This the first Nativity scene I’ve seen that spoke of the community’s way of life and how they are touched by the spirit of Christmas and of the Holy family. Merry Christmas….

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    • There are lots of scenes from village life represented in the presepe.

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  3. …chissa forse riesco a fare un salto a napoli quest anno… mi manca
    bel lavoro
    good work

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  4. Lovely, thanks Deb,

    Buon Natale,

    Judy

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    • I had fun collecting the photos. Merry Christmas to you too.

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  5. Oh, my dear Debra, what a beautiful things they are… I am crazy with them… Thank you so much, they are all so beautiful… Happy New year and Merry Christmas for you and for dear Liz, with my love, nia

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    • The detail in some of these scenes is amazing. Merry Christmas to you too.

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  6. I’ve never heard of presepe; so, thank you, Deb, for introducing us to this Italian concept. I love the detail in the Nativity scenes (very natural) and the Medieval themes of ‘community’ – such a refreshing change from the tawdry tinsel and flashing lights favoured as a custom in some countries. It would be interesting to do the Christmas themes around the world, how different countries interpret Christmas.
    When we lived in Ft Wayne (USA) in 1989, there was an event about “Christmases around the World”, where each booth portrayed a different country celebrating Christmas. Because we were Australians, we decorated our booth with themes from a hot Australian summer including thongs, suncream and a fan alongside a table filled with a mixture of Australian ‘cool’ food (prawns) and English ‘hot food’ (Christmas cake) among other things. We had fun decorating the booth and attracted plenty of interested comments.

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    • We see Nativity scenes in the village sometimes. Marco used to put one beside his restaurant until one year somebody took baby Jesus from his crib and left a sign “Torno subito” ( back soon). Jesus was returned but Marco was not impressed.

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  7. Aren’t these just incredible! Fascinating, graphic and so skillfully done. I believe the ‘live’ nativity scene is still done, quite commonly, in a lot of towns and villages, an annual event that brings pride to the community…especially if you’re directly involved in it as one of the characters. And on that note:

    Warm wishes to you and your family for a peaceful celebration (and lots of good eats) at this time; with a view to the new year, one full of hope and promise.

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    • Merry Christmas to you too. A live Nativity would be fun to watch.

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  8. I can’t get over how real they look. I like the one where the sheep are being sheered–and the woman with the fountain. Fascinating post, Deb.
    Kathy

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    • Some of the scenes are very realistic. I loved wandering in this area.

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  9. Thanks Debra for having posted about the huge and great Naples tradition of cribs!
    All this is true pop-art (popular art) in the sense that it borns and grows on the streets, reflecting the streets!

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    • I found the detail in some of these scenes fascinating.

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  10. Beautiful photos of the presepi, Debra! I told you once that the custom of setting up these nativity scenes have spread from Naples to many other places in the world. In Spain, they became very popular when King Charles III, who also was King of Naples, was crowned King of Spain. He brought with him several neapolitan “presepi” which can still be admired and are put on display at the Royal Palace in Madrid. They became extremely popular and the custom spread throughout Spain and also Latin America.
    I am currently in San Francisco, and yesterday I went to St Mary’s Catholic Shop. I found there quite a few “presepi” for sale, some of them from Italy (Fontanini), but also from other countries.
    In Bagni di Lucca, “presepi” making is not only a tradition, but also a source of income for many families.
    A beautiful “presepe” from my neighbours, the Barsantis, is on display at the special museum for nativity sets in Bethlehem.

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    • I want to visit your neighbours to see their work. I will definitely get there when I return to Bagni di Lucca.

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  11. They certainly are very detailed. I love the food stalls.

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  12. I agree that I have never seen (or thought of) the community’s participation or closeness with the nativity scene. Thanks so much for sharing this, Debra — beautiful pictures! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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    • Don’t miss this area if you go to Naples, it is fascinating.

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  13. The first two photos took me back to my youth in Panama, they looked so familiar I could relate. We always built owr own nativity sets, and kept adding new figurines to it each year. They were beautiful works of art, just like the ones you show here. Thanks for the memories!

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    • We drove to the south of Australia one year around Christmas time and we saw Nativity scenes in many small towns. I wish I had photographed them, some were amazing.

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  14. How fabulous! Three nativity scene was always pride of place in our house at christmas, but they never where a grand as this!

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  15. They are so detailed! I remember seeing some amazing ones in Austria, it seems like a really European thing 🙂

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    • Nativity scenes made in Napoli are sent all over the world.

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  16. URGH! I love them things. Ima miss them esp. having lived in Naples for two Christmases.

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    • Lucky you living in Naples for a time. I love this city!!!

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  17. And ow, I watch presepe vivente last year too.

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    • It is good to know that living presepe are still happening.

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  18. How intricate! It takes playing with doll’s houses to a whole new level.

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    • I don’t suppose the children are allowed to play with these.

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  19. Oh such detail in them! They look fantastic. I would find that hard not to buy a few.

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  20. Deb, they look amazing! Especially the ones with the food vendors!! Sooo intricate and lifelike!

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    • I particularly like the food ones. You could reach out and eat some of those things, mind you, you would need a lot, they are very tiny.

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  21. Wow! I really must be sure to be in Italy during Christmas some year!

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    • I want to be there for Christmas as well, hopefully with snow.

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  22. Hi Debra, my wife and i were in Ravello and while there we saw some figurines that were very similar to these, but we did not get their contact info. Are the ones you picture available on a website where they can be purchased?
    Thank you, Darryl

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    • I didn’t get details of any of the retailers, but I sure if you google nativity scenes you will come up with some companies who make them.

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