Presepe. A timeless Neapolitan tradition.
The Neapolitan presepe is a millenary tradition that goes beyond the nativity scene. It tells stories, legends, anecdotes, symbolisms and gives life to what is the authentic identity representation of the Neapolitan soul. Each character (pastore), each scene, has a meaning, even the place where each character is placed has a meaning. The Neapolitan presepe depicts the seasons, the months of the year, the daily reality which is the coexistence between the sacred and the profane.
“One day, at the market, my daughter bought an accessory for Neapolitan presepe . It was a small balcony with a railing, very pretty. She showed it to me and then asked me to build a presepe. “[MRPirozzi]
In 2016 Maria Rosaria did not know how to build a presepe. Wanting to please her daughter, she bought some wood, cork and bark. Not knowing where to start, she decided to build it by observing the reality. She thought about how houses are built and started following the same principle. First the pillars, slowly the rest. The walls, made of cork bricks, cut by hand, one by one … The set up of the scenes and again the creation of small accessories. A long and quite demanding job.Maria Rosaria built an exceptional presepe. She was enthusiastic about the result and posted a photo on Facebook. Soon after an agent invited her to exhibit her work in Avellino. Maria Rosaria Pirozzi is today a priestess of the Neapolitan presepe. She also is the one who brought the wax minuterie into the world of Italian polystylene presepi.
Happy with the unexpected success, that same year, Maria Rosaria built 23 presepi. There were small, large, framed, in a cornucopia… She sold all of them in just 3 days to a single family from Afragola, Napoli.The presepe is a complete project that includes several phases such as the design, the cutting of the materials, the painting, the decoration and then the creation of the small wax parts of which Maria Rosaria is the queen.She started as self-taught. Later she followed several courses about Italian presepi (diorama presepi) which are made with polystylene. On this occasion she connected with other artists and shared her techniques by inserting for the very first time ever the small wax parts in the (Italian) polystylene presepi.As an authentic Neapolitan, on her works she remains faithful to tradition, which wants wood, bark and cork and which is closer to nature.
Before creating wax minuterie (small accessories), Maria Rosaria practiced and created accessories with DAS modeling clay. She worked it, she left to it to dry and then she painted it. Certainly the wax would have given the small accessories an edge! While she was perfecting her manual skills she searched for the right type of wax and studied the techniques, until she hit her target. Every little object, each lantern, each flask of wine, each fruit made of wax looks real. There is no doubt about the magic and mystery of wax just as there is no doubt about the beauty of these little masterpieces.
What’s the relation between Napoli and presepe?
MRP: “Napoli is itself a Neapolitan presepe since it is where the sacred and the profane always meet. Eg:As Neapolitans, we enter the Cathedral of San Gennaro, in Napoli, visit San Gennaro and pray to the Saint. Well, as soon as we leave such a sacred place, a few steps away, we meet the statue of Pulcinella, which, in this case, represents the profane, to whom, as per tradition, we touch the nose because it brings good luck. We are like that. This is our reality. You can notice that on Neapolitan presepe we have the tavern next to the sacred nativity scene. There is a strong correlation between Napoli and the tradition of presepe because as Neapolitans we represent ourselves in it. Neapolitan presepe gives vent to our natural theatricality. “
Do traditions persist in Napoli?
MRP: “The tradition in Napoli resists and it is constantly reknown. My daughter was 15 when she asked me to build her a presepe. This means that something has arrived to her. Our traditions must not die because they are the glue between our past, present and future. As a child I remember that for Christmas my mother prepared endless dishes, full of food. I watched her cooking and asked her why she made all that food for only four people, as many as we were in the family, and she replied: “‘ I do it for devotion”. By devotion, she meant for tradition. That’s how we are. Today I do the same for my famlily and I am almost certain that my daughter will as well leave to traditions the place they have always occupied.”
Neapolitan presepe vs Italian presepe.
MRP: “The Neapolitan presepe differs from the Italian presepi first of all for the construction materials. Neapolitan presepe is made of wood, bark and cork. While Italian presepi are made with polistilene. Then it differs from Italian presepi because it does not merely represent the nativity scene but it can be read as a book through its many symbolisms that reveal themselves precisely as a fusion of the sacred and the profane. “
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Contact Maria Rosaria Pirozzi
Phone: +39 340 708 9555