Art Culture > History > The Nativity Scene’s history Date posted: December 6, 2012

The Nativity Scene’s history

The nativity scene is a big part of the Italian Christmas traditions (and any other Christian Catholic Country): Swide tells you why…

In Italy tradition requires that the Christmas tree and the nativity scene – a big part of the Italian Christmas tradition (and any other Catholic country) – have to be set up on the day of the Immaculate Conception, which falls on December 8th.

The Immaculate Conception celebrated by the Catholic Church as the moment when Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free of original sin and conceived a the baby who was the son of God. By this act she was filled with the sanctifying grace that Catholics acquire only with baptism. Mary is often called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One).

‘Presepe’ – the name of the nativity scene in Italian – comes from the Latin praesepium, which means place that has a fence in the front (prae= in front of, saepes=fence), a manger used to feed animals in a stable.

 Nativity Scene’s history 

Dolce&Gabbana’s Nativity Scene in Milan

It was most likely Saint Francis of Assisi who created the first nativity scene, on Christmas Day, 1223 in Greccio, Italy, in order to stress the religious meaning of the festivity compared to the materialism of giving gifts. The nativity scene was a living re enactment in a cave, with humans playing the Biblical roles.

The first statuesque nativity is to be found in Tuscany around 1280, when Arnolfo di Cambio made the figures in earthenware, inspired by the shapes of classicism: it is the oldest presepe we have today, and it is displayed in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in the Sistine Chapel. The figures engage beautifully with the space around them, and constitute the model for all future nativity scene. It is Carlo III of Borbone who brings the nativity scene to the South of Italy in 1700 and more precisely Naples (Campania), still the core, today, of presepe craftsmanship. From then on that nativity scene becomes common throughout the rest of Italy, too, officially in everyone’s homes in 1800.

 Nativity Scene’s history 

It is from Naples, (and most likely from Via San Gregorio Armeno, the street where all the presepe workshops are) that the presepe displayed in the Dolce&Gabbana boutique on Corso Venezia, in Milan was made. It took almost a year for the craftsmen to complete this nativity scene, all handmade including the clothes. This is once again a declaration of love from Dolce&Gabbana for Italian traditions: The Virgin Mary, holding Jesus while Joseph look at them, is surrounded by all sorts of characters that give the scene an emotional feeling that get the passers-by, luring them to stare at the big windows.

 Nativity Scene’s history 

It’s a dream-scene for anyone who grew up making it and going from church to church to see the different nativity scenes: Sheppard, women with babies, men, are all sumptuously dressed to greet Jesus. The nativity scene today is not only a religious symbol for the believers, but a universal way of representing a big family who reunites and joys together of the little things in life. Isn’t this the best way to wish you a Merry Christmas? 

 Nativity Scene’s history 

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