Nativity scene is a term in the Christian tradition that is used to refer to the events that occurred during the birth of Jesus. There are art objects such as paintings and figurines that demonstrate how the birth occurred. Many artists have imagined Jesus lying in a crib surrounded by his mother, Mary and father, Joseph. Animals, usually a donkey and an ox, are seen looking on from where they have been restrained. The wise men are in the scene presenting gifts to the messiah who will change the world. The shepherds are also pictured kneeling before the crib where baby Jesus is lying. It is indeed a perfect scene.
- Nativity scenes were first reported around the 13th century by the one saint Francis of Assisi. They were meant to popularize the worship of Jesus Christ. Since then, it has grown into a Christian tradition and for the business men; it has become a profitable venture. Saint Francis had been inspired by his visit to Bethlehem, where he had been shown the birthplace of Jesus Christ. This scene has gained popularityamong Christian communities such that every festive season, this scene is acted in shopping malls and churches.
- People from Naples fell in love with this scene. So in the 18thcentury they felt the need to create figurines that would represent every character inthat scene. The craftsmen crafted all the animals, the crib, baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men. They created these figurines to capture the Neapolitan life of that time.
- They would prepare these pieces of art when Christmas period was nearing. On Christmas day, they would demonstrate the nativity scenes using the figurines they had made. That is how Neapolitan nativity scenes began. They are still being demonstrated up to today during the festive season.
- King Charles III is today remembered as being instrumental in the popularizing this art.
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- In Naples, artisans create these beautiful figurines through sculpturing wood and terracotta. These pieces are then colored by expert painters and attached to a body made of iron wire. Eyes made of glasses and costumes made of fine fabrics are used to finish the figurines.
- These figurines are then placed in and around mangers that are usually made of natural materials or in perfect city or country landscape settings. Not much has changed in the 18th century Neapolitan nativity scene today because most of the figurines are still used. It’s only the use of lights and water during stage performance of the nativity scene that has improved over time.
- Neapolitan nativity scenes can be displayed in churches, offices and even theatres during the festive season. For example, on the eve of Christmas, most catholic churches usually organize a play that unfolds the events that occurred before, during and after the birth of Jesus.
- From the time Joseph and Mary are travelling to Bethlehem, to the time Mary is almost delivering baby Jesus and they have to look for a safe place for Mary to rest, to the time when Jesus has been born and now lies in a manger and is surrounded his parents and the donkeys and oxen inside the animal shed where Mary has just delivered, to the time when the wise men arrive with gifts for this great king, to time the shepherds arrive to pay homage to this great king who has just been born; all these are enacted in the scenes
- You will need figurines of the people and animals that were present during the birth of Jesus Christ to create the perfect nativity scene. Remember that it is not just any Mary figurine but the one that originates from Neapolitan workshops. The figurines of donkey and an ox are the most commonly used to represent the animals that were present at the site where Jesus was born.
- Thus, they have to be there to complete your Neapolitan Nativity scene. Another figurine that must be there is that of Mary and Joseph. Joseph is usually standing next to the manger where baby Jesus is lying while leaning on a walking stick that is touching the ground. He is looking at baby Jesus.
- The figurine of Mary is depicted kneeling beside the crib in which Jesus is lying, with one hand touching the crib. This is to show the love of a mother for her new born child. Joseph is standing next to her. On the other side of the manger are three wise men, some of the figurines usually depict all the wise men as black. They are carrying gifts in their hands towards the crib in which Jesus is lying. One is carrying gold, the other is carrying myrrh and the third wise man is carrying incense.
- The shepherds’ figurines are also present in the Neapolitan scene. The shepherds are depicted kneeling next to the crib where Jesus Christ is lying. They are depicted to be welcoming the great king into the world. They are amazed by this special child who will save the world. They observe this child that the angel of the God had directed them to go and see.
The display of Neapolitan nativity scene can be done in the open countryside or in a city or even in a theatre as long as the sky with stars can be seen. For example, in the countryside, the scene can be conducted out in the open where the sky can be used to inject a more natural, realistic feel. In the theatre, artificial lighting can be manipulated to produce a sky like horizon within the nativity scene.