The Presepe in Italy
The Presepe is a translation in dialect of the biblical narrative of the birth of Christ. In Sicily and the kingdom of Naples much skill was devoted to the preparation of the Presepe. There is only one person left in Naples who can produce the old dolls and repair them. His work has been mostly limited to the grouping of them together and to repairing such as required treatment.
The dolls were made of wood as regards faces, limbs, and hands; the bodies of rag, so as to be more pliable. Later the heads were made of terra-cotta; the modern Presepe figure is of papier-mache. The Presepe usually represented three phases—the Annunciation; the Nativity in the Grotto at Bethlehem with the Visitation ; and the Taverna. At the Annunciation the shepherds are seen sleeping by their farms with their flocks around them; the Nativity shows the birth of Christ and the Eastern kings in homage; and the Taverna a wayside resthouse, such as might be met with in Southern Italy during the XVIIIth century. The fruit of the soil and cattle of all kinds are shown in quantity.
One of the greatest and most tamous modellers of Pastori was Giuseppe Sammartino, who v/as born in 1720 and died in 1793. Francesco di Nardo was famous for his animals, but even more skilful than he were the brothers Saverio and Nicola Vassallo. Francesco Gallo, who was also a modeller at the Capodimonte Porcelain Works, modelled animals for the Presepe.