I’ve always found the process of scale alteration in objects very fascinating: a small thing that becomes large (as Ron Mueck does) or conversely, a great thing that shrinks as in architectural models.The Christmas presepi have always attracted my attention because they force you to get closer and enter into a visual reality that soon connects to your imagination and as it happens in the theater, your brain immediately starts playing with make believe and turns in to reality what is just a representation.
The word PRAESEPE in Latin mean’s manger and later on it took the wider sense of cave or stable.Every presepe, no matter if it is a little one just beside the TV in your grand moms dining room or the living one of a central cathedral, testifies the total randomness of Jesus birth by putting the poor baby born under a casual roof, lying were animals were supposed to eat.
In fact an ox and a donkey keep the creature warm with their breath while his parents get ready for the extraordinary events he is going to make them go through. The full scene is simple and pretty focused but all around it a carousel of tiny figurines in 1700s clothes that live and move.
This century represents the golden age for the city of Naples that had become in 1734 the capital of a vast kingdom under Carlo VII (from the Borbonic family) and almost reached the size and citizens number of Paris. This King contributed to the city development reforming the administration and taxation system, the trade and military organisation and gave a new impetus to all those activities that we still consider the economic and productive base for this territory: from the crafts (the presepio art, but also coral manufacturing, ceramics and porcelain, precious metals, wood) to the industry and all the trade connected with the port.
Very important was also his commitment to contain the temporal power of the clergy and for the overthrow of the feudal privileges still existed at that time; all the arts and crafts saw the beginning of a new era. Among the others the art of building presepi follows a more secular path and decade by decade, each representation of the Nativity was enriched with little statues that imitate everyday life in extraordinary realism. Sacred and profane start mixing in a crowded still performance were we can nowadays recognise characters and crafts no longer in use. For those who want to enter this surreal micro cosmos, along the axis of the Via San Gregorio Armeno, an authentic open-air exhibition of nativity scenes, is available throughout the year.
In December the city dwellers walk along this old street full of artisans workshops trying to find a new actor for their private theater. If you are visiting the city we highly recommend that you check out the historical “bottega” of the fratelli Capuno who are in business since 1840 (tel: 3383022523/3286346759) And here is the link for the famiglia Di Virgilio bottega (dates back to 1830). The store owner will be pleased to tell you all the inside stories about San Giovanni Armeno that I can’t tell you … I’m from the north and I got sucked in the northern tradition of a Christmas tree and can’t setup the holly crowd here!!!!
We would like to thank Angelo Oliverio who contributed to the photos shown and also introduced us to the workshop owners and info.