F: With a loving expression, Mary gazes at her son as she gracefully places one hand on her breast. She’s wearing golden sandals on her feet. Joseph is also looking at the child, while a shepherd pays homage to the baby Jesus, offering a basket of fruit. Such expressive figures reveal the hand of the sculptor Sebastian Osterrieder, who lived from 1864 to 1932.
M: It would be impossible to imagine the centuries-old history of Christmas cribs without Sebastian Osterrieder. The sculptor from Munich was crucial to the revival of the Christmas crib as an art form.
F: In the early 19th century, cribs were banned from churches and monasteries in Central Europe. They moved into private households, lost some of their artistic character and became more folksy – until Osterrieder came along. With support from the state of Bavaria, the sculptor embarked on a three-month art tour of the Holy Land. Sketches he made there served as blueprints for both architecture and figurines. The Munich banker Max Schmederer, an important collector of historical cribs, employed Osterrieder while he was amassing his collection, which is now at the Bavarian National Museum. That was how the sculptor came into contact with Italian nativity figures.
M: Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds – originally they are all carved. Osterrieder created moulds from his original figurines. So the figures could be reproduced at will using a casting method he’d developed. The figures of our Osterrieder crib were made in the same way, using a chill casting process. Our main figures have eyes made of glass, a feature still present in nativity figures from Naples even now.
Because of this casting technique, Osterrieder’s figures can’t be moved. Mary can only ever gaze at the baby Jesus from the left, the shepherd can only ever kneel in front of the child. So Osterrieder created his cribs to be eternally unchanging. Today, his nativity figures sell for between one and two thousand euros.
Fotos: © Krippenmuseum und © Trüpschuch