Rome Treasures – The Neapolitan Nativity in San Peter Square and the Arnolfo Nativity in Santa Maggiore

Presepe a Piazza San Pietro

Citta' del Vaticano, piazza San Pietro. Nella foto il Presepe Napoletano realizzato dal maestro Antonio Cantone e dalla bottega Cantone & Costabile – 23/12/2013 – fotografa: Maria Laura Antonelli

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The Neapolitan Nativity of St. Peter’s Square arrived for the first time in 2013 from the Abbey of Montevergine in the province of Benevento. It is 7 meters high with an area of ​​almost eighty square meters; it is in eighteenth-century style and is inspired by works of mercy. There are about twenty polychrome terracotta figures about two meters high.

Two delegations participated in the inauguration, one from Campania and the other from Poland, received by the Pope together with the children who made the decorations. As in previous years, these are small patients undergoing treatment at the oncology wards of some Italian hospitals that have participated in a program of recreational ceramic therapy organized and managed by the Countess Lene Thun Foundation.

In 2017, children from the earthquake-stricken areas of Central Italy, belonging to the archdiocese of Spoleto-Norcia, were also involved. The tree and the nativity remained illuminated until 7 January 2018, feast of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated on the Sunday after the Epiphany.

But where is the oldest Nativity in the world? After the living Nativity of Greccio invented San Francesco, the oldest Nativity in the world seems to be that of Arnolfo di Cambio (Colle val d’Elsa 1240- Florence 1310) in Santa Maria Maggiore, the Roman Basilica dedicated to the cult of the Virgin and to children of Jesus.

Presepio di Arnolfo Di Cambio – Ⓒ Bruno Brunelli

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It is also the most touching and expressing sculpture in the history of sculpture. It is enough to look at the eyes of the ox and the donkey, present to the great event and looking at us with so much gentleness and humanity, or the massive figures of the shepherds, the humble people to whom the newly born son of God first revealed himself, to understand the greatness of this architect and sculptor (his is the project for Palazzo Vecchio and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence).

The first sculptural representation of the Nativity in history, the Nativity would have been commissioned to the famous architect by Pope Niccolò IV, who was also the first Franciscan friar to become Pope. The eight statues of the Nativity, the Madonna with Child in the center, St. Joseph leaning on the stick, the heads of the ox and of the donkey and the Magi, one of which kneeling, seem to be full-relief sculptures , in reality they are high-reliefs on a marble surface.

The Madonna and Child is an addition of 1500 (the original would have been lost). Elegant and refined in the carvings, the sculpture recalls in some aspects the French Gothic of the same period with in addition the realistic-Romanic influence of the of the school of Nicola Pisano, with whom the artist trained. However, a unique style distinguishes the solemnity of the figures and the scenic layout. Inspired by the Greccio nativity, Arnolfo created a sculptural apparatus capable of celebrating the Nativity in all its sacredness, combining stylistic beauty and realistic research initiated in those years, the same ones that will mark the passage from the medieval to the modern age.

The Basilica, located on the summit of Mount Esquilino, is also known as “Sancta Maria ad Praesepem”, because according to tradition it would preserve in the crypt the remains of the manger, where the Infant Jesus was laid down the night of the birth. Arnolfo di Cambio, one of the most complex and original personalities of Italian Gothic, was trained in the workshop of Nicola Pisano, with whom he worked at the Arca di San Domenico in the church of the same name in Bologna (1264-67), and at the pulpit of the cathedral of Siena (1265-1269). Undisputed protagonist of the Roman art scene, he created in the eternal city the ciboria of the churches of San Paolo fuori le Mura, and of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, as well as the famous bronze statue of St. Peter Enthroned, object of great veneration in the Vatican Basilica.

Source: L’Italo-Americano

Source: Italian Ways

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