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The Neapolitan Presepio

Between the third and fourth decades of the XVIII century, Neapolitans set up "presepio".
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 his hand.

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.


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