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Diversity in the nativity scene

From the Baroque to modern times
Nativity scenes are still an integral part of church and domestic Christmas decorations and are made in all imaginable artistic styles and materials. Before the Christmas tree became widely used in the 19th century, the manger was the focal point of the Christmas decorations.
This unique special exhibition has come about through loans from the monastery of Heiligkreuz in Cham, and from the private collection of Mr. Alfred Dünnenberger. Beautiful nativity scenes from the Baroque, unusual staged nativity scenes and rare figures give insight into the world of nativity scenes. For these reasons, the exhibition will only be shown in Basel.

The initiator of presenting the nativity story in honor of Christmas is St. Francis of Assisi, who replaced the traditional sermon with a Christmas scene of people and living animals in Greccio in 1223. In the Middle Ages very large, solid compositions were created in chapels or behind altars. The events of the Holy Night were illustrated using life-size figures. From the 16th century you find small figures, with which you could re-enact scenes of the Christmas story again and again. Sometimes the different scenes were combined on a spacious landscape with different locations.

By the end of the 19th century, serial production of nativity figures made from relatively inexpensive materials such as terracotta and paper mache allowed less affluent individuals to purchase a nativity scene for their home. A family nativity scene might start with just Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, and be expanded over the years with much time, effort and money. Again and again new figures were added and the scenery was lovingly developed and embellished.

Among the most famous nativity scenes are the Neapolitan mangers from Italy or the French Santons, Provençal nativity figures, in painted clay or terracotta. Every region and epoch has a traditional scene. These can be landscape scenes, stable scenes, temple scenes, root scenes, relief scenes or eastern scenes. The materials used also vary widely: wax, terracotta, clay, wood, glass, paper mache, paper, cardboard, tin, straw, lead or tin. The main characters in a nativity scene are the baby Jesus in a manger, Mary and Joseph, ox, donkey, shepherd and sheep, the Three Wise Men from the East with presents, and the Annunciation angel.
Diversity in the nativity scene
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