Christmas Eve I saw the Neapolitan Creche at the Art Institute of Chicago. On display until January 11th it is a mesmerizing artistic cacophony of the secular and spiritual scene surrounding the birth of Christ from the perspective of contemporary Neapolitan life in the mid 18th century.
A Nativity injected into Neapolitan street life made with such detailed perfection that you are visually and emotionally drawn into a vast panorama (the creche is enclosed in a 15.5 feet by 14 feet by 4.5 feet case) of people and animals going about their ordinary lives with one extraordinary difference. For at center stage is the Christ child with a spectacular halo of metallic golden rays, surrounded by hovering angels in billowy clouds, looked after by Mary and Joseph, attended by shepherds and visited by the Magi. They along with all the other figures (200 human and 62 animals) are exquisitely dressed, perfectly modeled and set in scenes of such intricate detail that you expect them to come to life at any moment.
The multi-cultural cast of characters (many in regional costumes), modeled construction of the buildings, landscape, market and tavern scenes, jewelry, musical instruments, miniature fruits and clothing were made by prominent painters, sculptures, goldsmiths and artisans of the time with great attention to detail and the flamboyancy of the baroque. In centuries old workshops and artist studios in Naples, master and apprentice artisans still sculpt these intricate figurines and scenes of Il Presepio, an art and tradition of Christmas in Italy.