Bethlehem and Beyond : The Nativity Scene

Nativity scene

November 2, 2019 - February 2, 2020

Smith Gallery

In 2016, the NCSML received a donation of a spectacular Nativity scene that is made up of nearly 1000 hand carved pieces. Most of the pieces were carved in Příbram, Bohemia over 150 years ago, and others were carved by Marie Wimmer between 1924 and 1934. These whimsical and fantastic examples will be on display for the first time during the Christmas 2019 season.

The oldest mention of an exhibited Nativity scene in the Czech lands is from 1562. Although they were initially displayed in churches, Nativity scenes gradually spread into the homes of people and villages as well. Folk creators of Nativity scenes placed the scene of baby Jesus’ birth into the environment which surrounded their villages. They depicted reality and combined it with their ideas of exotic lands, animals and clothing.

There are generally two types and sizes of Nativity scenes: Small scenes were stored in the attic and brought down for Christmas. Larger Nativity scenes with figures had to be assembled every year and took over a large part of a room. Each year one or more new figures might be added to the scene.

The typical Czech/Slovak Nativity scene comprises the following characters: Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Magi (Kaspar, Melichar ,and Baltazar), shepherds and sheep, ox, donkey, and an angel with the inscription Gloria in excelsis Deo. The entire scene is topped with the star of Bethlehem flying across the night sky. Other figures can also be found, including hunters, chimney sweeps, millers, artisans, journeymen, farmers, farm helpers, pub keepers, night watchmen, goats, ducks, and children. The nativity scenes go beyond Bethlehem, and begin to look like a typical Czech or Slovak village.

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