The exhibition is a popular New York City holiday tradition. It usually goes up a day or two before Thanksgiving.
Nativity scenes are popular in the Latin world because Latin Christmas traditions focus on Three Kings Day and the wise men’s visit to the stables to see Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. New York City is more English Protestant, so we don’t see many nativities here. This is one and it is a very spectacular nativity.
The Met Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park, Manhattan, Tuesday, November 21, 2023 – January 7, 2024. $30 (New York State pay-what-you-wish). metmuseum.org 🇮🇹
A Crèche is a nativity scene. Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy, created the first nativity in 1223. The tradition follows this first crèche.
Naples, Italy is the center of this tradition. What started with life-sized wooden figures to be placed in front of a church, evolved into scenes made of small, very expressive terracotta figurines. Over time the original religious themes expanded to include figures from all walks of everyday life and even a little fun profanity.
The art reached its high period in the 18th century. The pieces are usually made by several artists with apprentices working on the bodies and masters working on faces. The crèche involve sculpture, painting and tailoring.
Crèche were collected by the elite. Just as neighbors today sometimes compete to decorate the homes lavishly for the holidays, the elite created ever more complex crèche scenes in a friendly keep-up-with-the-Joneses competition.
New York City’s holiday windows probably grew out of this tradition.
It’s notable that the nativity is very important in Latin traditions, but rarely seen in New York City. The Christmas Tree is a northern European tradition. Contemporary holiday traditions are blends of many peoples and places.
The Met Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Créche are Spectacular
Most of the decorations in the Met Christmas tree exhibit come from a collection of 18th-century Neapolitan figures that Loretta Hines Howard started in the 1920s when she was just a girl.
Ms. Howard began donating the figures to the Met in 1964. For over 30 years she worked with artist Enrique Espinoza to adorn the tree and create the nativity scene around its base. We don’t know for sure, but Mr. Espinoza was probably Mexican-American. The two also created Christmas trees for the White House.
The Tree is installed in front of the choir screen (ca. 1763) from the Cathedral of Valladolid, Spain. 🇪🇸