Passions & Places


The Nativity in the Arts

The aura of spirituality surrounding Jesus’ birth has always represented a strong symbolic and religious reference point for Christian populations. The event is brought to life by a vast iconography, which has been interpreting Christmas through the various schools of thought and the artistic styles of different periods.  Le Marche boast a wealth of valuable sculptures and paintings representing the Nativity, preserved in museums, churches and private collections.  Some are very ancient, such as the high relief of the Sarcophagus of Flavio Gorgonio - dating back to the 4th century and kept in the halls of the Museo Diocesano of Ancona - which reproduces the Nativity through its classical, traditional elements (the manger, the ox and the donkey, the shepherds). 

A wooden life-size Crib can be admired at the Museum of the Basilica of San Nicola in Tolentino. It dates back to the 14th century, as well as the Three Magi and Saint Joseph, kept at the bishop’s residence of Fabriano.

Our travel through time - to mention just a few of the works scattered thoughout Le Marche - leads us the walls of the church of Santa Maria a Piè di Chienti in Montecosaro, frescoed in the 14th century with an interesting Adoration of the Magi.  From here, we enter the 15th century, when Antonio Alberti da Ferrara decorated the walls of the small cemetery church of Talamello with a Gothic-style Adoration of the Magi, and Lorenzo D’Alessandro painted a beautiful Nativity, which can be admired at the Pinacoteca Tacchi Venturi in San Severino. 

The church of San Medardo in Arcevia boasts two important polyptychs - one painted by Luca Signorelli, the other made in ceramic by Andrea and Giovanni Della Robbia - featuring in their lower part the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi.  We are now in the 16th  century, when Federico Brandani created a wonderful stucco crib, kept in the Oratory of San Giuseppe in Urbino, and many artists engaged with the theme of the Nativity.  Examples include admirable works by Simone, Francesco and Andrea De Magistris in Matelica, Fabriano, Gagliole, Caldarola and Visso.  Particularly suggestive is an Adoration of the Magi by the Venetian Lorenzo Lotto, kept in the Pinacoteca of the Holy House of Loreto, which also hosts a notable marble crib by Andrea Sansovino.

During the same period Tintoretto painted a complex and ornate Adoration of the Magi, kept in the church of Santa Maria delle Vergini in Macerata. The splendid Adoration of the shepherds by Pieter Paul Rubens dates back to the early 17th century and is kept in the Pinacoteca Civica of Fermo.  Domenichino’s Nativity can be admired in Fano’s cathedral, and the Nativity attributed to Claudio Ridolfi is kept in the Municipal Palace of Osimo. The church of Santa Maria Extra Muros in Sant’Angelo in Vado hosts an Adoration of the Magi.   The Nativity by Antonio Massi, a painter born in Jesi, is equally charming and is kept in the convent church of San Francesco in Montecarotto.      

Following the spread of the tradition of artistic cribs which originated in Naples, the following centuries saw the birth in Le Marche of a fine craftsmanship devoted to Christmas themes. The Pinacoteca of Ascoli Piceno, for instance, contains the original works by the Paci family (who worked in the 18th century). Visitors can also admire the Campana collection in Osimo, which boasts beautiful cribs made by Luigi Guacci.  This artist was born in Lecce and used papier-mâché for his works. The Civic Museum of Pesaro displays fine majolica objects with decorations related to the Nativity.

Le Marche thus offer a complete itinerary through the representation of Jesus’ birth, a different and interesting way to admire the rich cultural heritage of this region.

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