Genoa's Nativity Scenes
"No nativity scene here is the same as any other… each differs in size and in detail. Some are masterpieces of good taste and ingenuity. The men who build them, whether priests or laymen, zealously vie against each other, all of them competing to attract the highest number of visitors, devoting themselves to details, proportions and the overall effect. Genoa's nativity scenes are the joy of Christmas…Here, Christmas has not lost its true meaning. It is exclusively a celebration of childhood and of good will towards humankind. Nativity scenes are the triumph of the Genoese: from Christmas day onward, they visit them one after the other, with three weeks to complete their pilgrimage. On January 6, the Epiphany, the adoration of the shepherds is replaced by the Magi, with Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar dressed in luxurious fabrics and magnificent turbans and followed by camels and servants. And the crowds parade ceaselessly before such splendour".
So wrote Henry Aubert, enchanted by the tradition of Christmas nativity scenes in Genoa and the surrounding area.
This is a tradition of particular historic and artistic renown. "From the first half of the 16th century until the early decades of the 19th century, Genoa earned a name for itself, alongside Naples, as one of the most active cities in the production of nativity scene figures. Numerous carvers' workshops – the best-known being that of Anton Maria Maragliano (Genoa 1664/1739) – specialised in producing exquisitely carved figurines and articulated wooden mannequins, partially painted and dressed in fabric clothing. The latter were quicker to produce, and, more importantly, better able to meet the requirements of the spectacular Baroque nativity scenes, making it possible to continuously interchange different characters and scenes simply by replacing their clothes or accessories. In keeping with a custom widespread in many Catholic countries in Europe, during the period between Christmas and Candlemas (February 2, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin that coincides with the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple), the Adoration of the Magi, the Presentation at the Temple, and the Flight into Egypt were all represented." (text: Giulio Sommariva)
This deeply-rooted tradition continues to yield magnificent fruits, so much so that it would be impossible to list them all! Suffice to say that there are many nativity scenes of outstanding national historic and artistic importance: both in the city and throughout the province, spectacular nativity scenes of every sort – ancient, modern, traditional, mechanical, panoramic, animated, etc. - flourish everywhere, set up on beaches, in valleys, in woods, in towns (including the "town-nativity-scene" of Pentema), in sanctuaries, churches, abbeys, museums, parks and historic villas, in shops, shopping centres, shop windows, and so on...
And there are also permanent nativity scenes that can be admired throughout the year: to mention the city of Genoa alone, those not to be missed include the Sanctuary of the Madonnetta, the collection of the Museo Luxoro in Nervi and the Nativity Scene of the Duchessa at the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie overlooking the park of Villa Duchessa di Galliera in Voltri...
Lastly, there are wonderful opportunities – some of them permanent – to admire the iconography of Christmas in museums and places of worship: to mention just two, the nativity scene by "Il Grechetto" in San Luca, the noble church of the Spinola family, and the Adoration of the Magi by Joos van Cleve in the Church of San Donato.
Thematic itineraries and guided tours offer many excellent opportunities to discover or rediscover the charm of this famous, historic tradition, the variety of its cityscapes, and the characteristics of the sites that host nativity scenes throughout the city, the province and the "Genovesato".