The Sicilian creche
The creche art in Sicily, even if influenced by the neapolitan school, particularly with regard to the surroundings – reproduction of scenes of everyday life in villages of the island and with sicilian characters – and at times the technique – wood and iron-wire made manikins wearing fabric clothes – yet it proposes various original features variable depending on the geographical origins.
Particularly, there are four areas where it develops a creche craftsmanship strongly distinguished: the areas of Palermo, Siracusa, Trapani and Caltagirone.
In Palermo and in the Siracusa territory, where bee-keeping is wide spread, since the '600 wax has been employed to mould small statues of Infant Jesus and even whole creches. In this craftsmanship, are clearly conspicuous the so named "Bambinai", who operated in Palermo in the area of the Church of San Domenico between the '600 and '700 centuries; among them a leading figure was Giulio Gaetano Zumbo, of whom it may still be admired one of his creche at the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, and Giovanni Rosselli remembered by his work of art at the Museo Regionale di Messina, as well as Anna Fortino, Giacomo Serpotta and Anna La Farina. The Bambinelli are of refined workmanship, made precious by golden and silver accessories, with a hieratic expression and represented holding a cross in a hand.
In the '800s are well known the Siracusa's cerari who manufacture whole creches or Bambinelli with a joyful or a sleeping expression, holding a lambkin, a flower or a fruit and immersed in a exultation of paper-flowers and colorful sequins, inside glass caskets (scarabattole). Among them excell Fra' Ignazio Macca, whose a few creche are preserved at the San Corrado hermitage in Noto and at the Museo Bellomo di Siracusa and Mariano Cormaci remembered by his wax fullsized creche, placed in the Acireale cave. Remarkable also the creche preserved in the Palazzo Vescovile in Noto, which represents a countryside life setting, composed of 38 characters placed in the scenery of the Iblei mountains.
In Trapani for the making of the creches are employed precious materials, above all coral, alone, as in the Renaissance age, or with ivory, mother-of-pearl, bone, alabaster and shells, in Baroque and Rococo ages, when the Nativity central composition is encircled by architectures in contemporary style where are represented fantastic and symbolic scenes. Splendid models are those exhibited at the Pepoli di Trapani and Cordici di Erice museums.
In Caltagirone, where pottery has been manufactured since the XVI century, creches are realized in clay and represent, as a frame to the Nativity, scenes of peasant and pastoral life, vivified by characters typical of that civilization, as the sleeping shepard, the piper, the buttermilk seller, the hunter. Between the end of the XVIII century and the first half of the XIX century, the best quality production of polichrome creches in terracotta can be found at the shop of Bongiovanni brothers, Giuseppe and Giacomo and their nephew Giuseppe Vaccaro, excellent artist. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the '700s there were already celebrated artisans as the santari Branciforti and Margioglio who contributed to impose Caltagirone as the "City of the creche". Generally, in the whole island, since '600s, there has been wide spreading of the creche manufactured by the same technique employed in the production of altar statues: small wooden statues wearing fabric clothes dip in a glue bath to make them stiff and of bright colors. Among the most famous manufacturers of this kind of creche, the leader, Salvatore Matera, Nolfo, Ciotta, the Pisciotta's and the Tipa's.