Location: Medieval Sculpture Hall
Press Viewing: Monday, December 2, 10:00 a.m.–noon
The Christmas tree and Neapolitan Baroque crèche at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a long-standing yuletide tradition in New York, will be on view for the holiday season, from November 26, 2013, through January 6, 2014. The brightly lit, 20-foot blue spruce—with a collection of 18th-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs hovering among its boughs and groups of realistic crèche figures flanking the Nativity scene at its base—will once again delight holiday visitors in the Museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall. Set in front of the 18th-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid, with selected Christmas music in the background and daily lighting ceremonies, the installation reflects the spirit of the holiday season.
This exhibit of the crèche is made possible by gifts to The Christmas Tree Fund and the Loretta Hines Howard Fund.
The annual Christmas display has evolved through the generosity, enthusiasm, and dedication of the late Loretta Hines Howard, who began collecting crèche figures in 1925. Mrs. Howard conceived the idea of presenting the elaborate Nativity scene within a Christmas tree, angels swirling upward to the crowning star.
This unusual combination was first presented to the public in 1957, with the Metropolitan’s exhibition of Mrs. Howard’s collection. Since 1964, more than two hundred 18th-century Neapolitan crèche figures have been given to the Museum by Loretta Hines Howard, and they have been displayed each holiday season for nearly 60 years. Linn Howard, Mrs. Howard’s daughter, worked with her mother for many years on the annual installation. Since her mother's death in 1982, she has continued to create new settings for the Museum's ensemble. In keeping with family tradition, Linn Howard's daughter, artist Andrea Selby Rossi, joins her mother again this year in creating the display.
The towering tree is adorned with 22 cherubs and 55 gracefully suspended angels. The landscape at the base displays 69 figures celebrating the Christmas Nativity. This display mingles three basic elements that are traditional to 18th-century Naples: the Nativity, with adoring shepherds and their flocks; the procession of the three Magi, whose exotically dressed retinue echoes the merchants and travelers one may have encountered in bustling Naples at the time of the crèche’s creation; and, most distinctively, colorful peasants and townspeople engaged in their quotidian tasks. The theatrical scene is enhanced by 50 charming animals—sheep, goats, horses, dogs, a camel, and an elephant—and by background pieces that create a dramatic setting for the Nativity, including the ruins of a Roman temple, several quaint houses, and a typical Italian fountain with a lion’s-mask waterspout.
The popular Christmas custom of restaging the Nativity is traditionally credited to Saint Francis of Assisi. The employment of man-made figures to reenact the hallowed events reached its height of artistic excellence in 18th-century Naples, where local families, often assisted by professional stage directors, vied to outdo each other in presenting elaborate and theatrical crèche displays. The esteemed genre attracted the finest sculptors of the period—including Giuseppe Sammartino and his pupils Salvatore di Franco, Giuseppe Gori, and Angelo Viva—who were called on to model the terracotta heads of the extraordinary crèche figures. The Howard collection includes numerous works attributed to these as well as to other prominent artists.
The Museum’s crèche figures, works of art unto themselves, range from six to 20 inches in height. They have articulated bodies of tow and wire, heads modeled in terracotta and polychromed to perfection. The luxurious and colorful costumes, many of which are original, were often sewn by women of the collecting families and their ladies and enriched with jewels, embroideries, and elaborate accessories, including precious metals in the form of gilded censers, scimitars, and daggers, and silver filigree baskets. The placement of the angels on the Christmas tree and the composition of the crèche figures and landscape vary slightly from year to year as new figures are added to the collection.
Beginning November 26, dramatic lighting ceremonies will take place each day, Sunday through Thursday, at 4:30 p.m., and on Fridays and Saturdays at 4:30, 5:30, and 6:30 p.m.
Visitors can listen to several related audio messages as part of the Museum’s Audio Guide program. Audio Guides will be available for rental ($7, $6 for Members, $5 for children under 12).
The Audio Guide is sponsored by Bloomberg.
As part of the Christmas celebration, several performances—by João Carlos Martins with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Calmus Ensemble Leipzig, The Vienna Boys Choir, Salzburg Marionette Theatre, Salomé Chamber Orchestra, and The Crossing— will take place in the Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. For ticket pricing and availability, please visit www.metmuseum.org/tickets or call Met Museum Presents at (212) 570-3949. Tickets can also be purchased at the Met Museum Presents box office located inside the Museum’s main entrance (open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.–3:30 p.m., and two hours prior to each event).
Medieval Decorations to Mark “Christmastide” at The Cloisters from December 10 to January 2
The wreaths and garlands that deck The Cloisters museum and gardens for the holiday season are all hand-made from plants linked with the celebration of Christmastide in the Middle Ages. Striking installations of flowers, fruits, nuts, and evergreens, inspired by medieval sources, will be on display throughout the museum from December 10 through January 2. Visitors to The Cloisters will pass under a great arch of holly—the plant associated above all others with the medieval feast—to enter the museum. Inside, the doorways of the Main Hall will be adorned with arches of ivy, apples, hazelnuts, and rosehips, and the iron candelabra in the galleries will be dressed with greens and roses. An extensive collection of evergreen topiary, as well as displays of rosemary, cyclamen, citrus, and other potted plants appropriate to the season will be on view in the Saint-Guilhem and Cuxa Cloisters.
Holiday-themed early music performances by the Waverly Consort and Lionheart will be held at The Cloisters in honor of its 75th anniversary. For ticket pricing and availability, please visit www.metmuseum.org/cloisters or call (212) 650-2290.
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A complete list of programs and activities to be held at both the Metropolitan Museum’s main building and The Cloisters during the holiday season this year—family programs, films, concerts, tours, holiday dining, shopping (in the Met’s Holiday Shop), and more—can be found on the Metropolitan Museum’s website at www.metmuseum.org.
Note: Admission is free to the main building and The Cloisters for children under the age of 12 accompanied by adults. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1.
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November 22, 2013