22 December 2008

O Little Town of… Venezia

I have seen a great many things here that I will never ever forget. This is one of them – a beautifully detailed presepio (Christmas crèche scene, often with the surrounding town) that imagines the birth of Christ in Venice. It is currently being shown at the Chiesa della Maddalena, along with about a dozen other lovingly handcrafted nativity scenes from all over the world.

This lovely one is very deep and wide, covering about six square yards. The grey background gives the perfect illusion of endless winter sky. Apart from the stable scene there are several side streets where one can see the vendors and artisans that were (still are!) unique to Venice – the glass blower, the lace workers, the mask master, the makers of remi e forcole (oars and oarlocks), the gondola builders in their squero. And of course, the omnipresent cats and pigeons are there!

All the little figures populating La Serenissima, rich or poor, are dressed in perfect miniature costumes, with real hairstyles and finely-detailed accessories. There is even a pair of Carnevale revelers in mask and costume. Most handsome are the three wise men, one of whom is the Doge himself. He watches solemnly as his little pageboy offers the infant Jesus a red velvet corno (traditional horn-shaped cap of the Doge).

In the distance one can see Rialto Bridge and the Campanile, as well as the familiar turban-style Venetian chimneypots. In the glassy Grand Canal water, gondole con felze (gondolas with privacy cabins attached) float. The leaded windows of the palazzi (palaces) are aglow with warm yellow firelight. The rooftops of the more modest case (houses) have roughly-built altane (little wooden decks used for sunning and bleaching the hair) and clean laundry hanging on poles. (Click the pic to see these things better.)

Italian people lavish much time and attention on the details of the presepi they create. Young and old alike try their hand at the art. Materials and figurines and props appear in shops and kiosks early in November. One can spend a small fortune just stocking the tiny stores, increasing the herds, and improving the local landscape of these wee villages. This particular Christmas town was clearly a labor of great love. I wish I could tell its creator just how dazzled I am!