Lecture: The Art Institute’s Neapolitan Crèche



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Displayed annually during Christmas time, the Art Institute’s Neapolitan crèche includes more than 200 figures—some of whose components were carved and assembled in the 18th century. In keeping with Naples tradition, the scene transposes the birth of Jesus from first-century Bethlehem to 18th-century Naples.

In this lecture, educator Jeff Nigro guides you through the complex diorama, which includes not only the Holy Family but angels, the Three Wise Men, shepherds and their flocks, livestock, musicians, dancers, peddlers, and many others. You’ll learn why the crèche is such a spectacular expression of the Baroque period, how it engages with popular piety, and emphasizes expressive emotion, dynamic movement, and exuberant theatricality typical of the time.

A work made of figures: polychromed terracotta heads with painted glass eyes, wooden limbs, and bodies of wire wrapped in hemp; clothing made variously of 18th- or 19th-century silks, cottons, linens, leather, and paper, some with metallic threads; some figures with additional elements in gold, silver, pearl, coral, ivory, bone, and wood; additional smaller figures composed entirely of polychromed terracotta or polychromed carved wood

animals: polychromed terracotta, painted wood, iron, and lead; some with painted glass eyes and additional elements in leather, string, and metal

objects: painted terracotta, copper, iron, silver or other metals, ceramic, wax, raw clay, paper, glass, fabric, string, straw, basket fibers, alabaster, and marble

furniture: wood, metal, leather, and fabric

setting: cork, wood, papier-mâché, twigs, and moss with watercolor and gouache

the crèche is housed in a 19th-century cabinet with a late-18th-century carved and gilded cornice..
Crèche, mid–18th century

Persons with disabilities who would like to request an accessibility accommodation for an Art Institute program are encouraged to send an e-mail to access@artic.edu two weeks in advance of the program. 


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