Between the third and fourth decades of the XVIII century, Neapolitans set up
Where the economic cultural and commitment existed, were built complex of such
interest and artistic value to be reported in the chronicles of the time, and
noted in the writings of foreign travelers who visited Naples in 1700.
The "presepio" was created as a representation of certain passages of the Gospel concerning
the birth of Jesus Christ; in particular: the "Mystery" (the birth of the child),
the "Announcement" (the appearance of an angel to the shepherds, the adoration
of the Magi) and the "Diversorium" (the hotel where Mary and Joseph had sought
shelter in vain).
The Neapolitan presepio may seem rather a different thing: it looks like a glimpse of Naples in the
eighteenth century. The faces, activities, costumes correspond to that period.
It's almost hard to disentangle in the crowd, but with a closer look you can find
some well-defined groups: the protagonists of the 'First', poor shepherds reached
by the divine message of the birth of the Redeemer, "the pastor who fan the flames,"
the one "with the goat in hand" , Benin (the shepherd is asleep), the "shepherd
of wonder" and "adoration", the "piper" and who plays what on offer.
In the tradition of the Neapolitan crib, you can assign a special meaning to
each character and place that makes the whole scenario:
Benin or Benito: the Neapolitan tradition, Benin is also the one who dreams of the crib.
The vintner and Cicci Bacchus: the wine and bread, are the gifts with which Jesus will establish the Eucaristia,
spreading the message of death and resurrection to the Kingdom of Heaven. But
opposed to this, there is the figure of Cicci Bacchus, the legacy of the ancient
pagan gods, god of wine, which is often in front of the cellar with a bottle in
The fisherman: a symbolical fisher of souls. The fish was the first symbol of Christians to
be persecuted in the Roman Empire and the ban on depicting God, applied to the
third century, involved the need of using symbols to refer to the Divinity.
The three Magi: they represent the nocturnal journey of the comet which is connected with the
birth of the new "sun-child." It was wise with royal and priestly powers, that
tradition has set at three, on the basis of their gifts: gold, frankincense and
myrrh, offered to the unborn child.
The gypsy: a young woman, with broken clothes but flashy. The Gypsy is traditionally a
character able to predict the future. In this case, its presence is a symbol of
Christ as she is carrying a basket of tools made of iron, metal used to forge
the nails of the crucifixion.
Stephanie: a young virgin who, when the Redeemer was born, walked to the Nativity to worship
him. Locked by angels forbidding unmarried women to visit the Madonna, Stephanie
took a stone, wrapped in swaddling clothes and pretended to be her mother and she
managed to get in front of Jesus the next day. In the presence of Mary, made a miracle:
the stone became a child sneezed, Saint Stephan.
The market:the Neapolitan crib of 700 represents several jobs as a snapshot in the major
trades that take place throughout the year. Then you can interpret arts and crafts
as personifications of the months according to this scheme - January: butcher;
February: cheeseseller; March: poulterer; April: selling eggs; May: a woman selling
cherries; June: baker; July: tomatoe seller; August: vendor of watermelons; September:
farmer; October: vintner; November: chestnut seller, December: fishmonger.
The river: flowing water is a symbol in the mythologies related to death and divine birth.
In the case of the Christian religion, it refers to the liquid fetal maternal
but at the same time, to Acheronte, the river of the underworld where the damned
make their last journey.