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Trapani manufacturing

Nativity Scene



Trapani manufacturing


Nativity Scene


Early seventeenth century


Coral, silver, gilt-copper and enamel


H: 57 cm






On Display

This delicate Nativity scene is housed within a ruined architecture covered with vegetation and enamel copper plants. The Holy Family, the shepherds, the piper, and the woman carrying the basket are made of coral fragments assembled with wax-lacquer, while the golden bronze donkey also carries coral fruits. The figure of the baby Jesus is removable and would probably have been placed into the crib on Christmas Eve. Red Mediterranean coral grew in abundance off the coast of Sicily, and Trapani became a leading centre of coral craftsmanship from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. According to the Christian tradition, coral symbolised the blood of Christ, and for this reason it was often worn around the necks of children to ward off evil. Typical of Trapani are the pinwheel flowers with an enamelled copper base on which tiny coral elements are inserted. The ancient ruins used as a backdrop is another peculiarity of Trapani’s nativity scenes and evoke the so-called ‘ruinism’, which led sculptors, painters, and architects to include this architectural element in their production, both as an allusion to classical culture and as an evocation of the destruction of paganism by Christianity. The custom of recreating the mystery of the Nativity at Christmas spread to Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples, where nativities like this one were commissioned by rich middle-class families. This custom reached its peak in the early eighteenth century with the advent of the Neapolitan nativity scene, or presepio. The present group can be very closely compared to another at the Museo Regionale Pepoli, Trapani, dated to the early seventeenth century.

Trapani manufacturing Nativity Scene Early seventeenth century © Compton Verney

Trapani Nativity Group 1650-1700 © Compton Verney

Trapani Nativity Group 1650-1700 © Compton Verney

Trapani Nativity Group 1650-1700 © Compton Verney