M: Those sounds are transporting you to the lively Via Gregorio Armeno in Naples, a street exclusively devoted to shops that sell cribs. For centuries, the southern port city of Naples has been the hub of Italy's crib-building industry. Just to give you an idea of how long this has been going on: the oldest known crib in Naples was made in 1478 and is on display in the church of San Giovanni di Carbonara.
F: But the golden age of Neapolitan cribs was the period from 1725 to 1790. The nobility, the patricians and the princes of the church adorned their palaces with cribs. That’s why the art of crib-making is so highly developed in Naples. The heads of the figurines were modelled in clay and fired. After the firing process, eyes made of glass were set into the terracotta heads. The limbs are carved from wood, while the bodies are made of hay and plant fibres on a wire framework. The figures are clad in splendid robes. As recently as the 18th century, there were specialist textile mills in Naples that wove fabrics in miniature based on original designs, to supply the crib-making industry.
M: Another typical feature is the lavish use of what’s known as "finimenti", small-scale props and accessories – here, for example, it’s the oranges and cabbages. Something to look forward to is the crib made by Claudio Mattei at stop number 18. That crib is also lovingly decked with little accessories. In Naples, making these finimenti is an art in itself. They’re formed by hand from coloured wax.
F: This particular Neapolitan crib is a prime example of the crib tradition in Naples. The glass case is a typical feature; it gives people an equally good view of the figures and setting from all sides.
M: The Holy Family, the ox and donkey, shepherds and a few sheep – what brings Neapolitan cribs to life is the large cast of characters. The figurines are between 200 and 250 years old – and adjustable. The shepherd is playing the bagpipes – actually, the zampogna, to give them their Italian name. Bagpipes are regarded as a typical pastoral instrument – and their distinctive sound is traditionally heard at local nativity plays.
F: As you move on, please look to your left, where you’ll discover another Neapolitan crib. It’s easily recognisable by the figurines and its typical setting.
Fotos: © Krippenmuseum und © Trüpschuch