Velvet-clad, garden-like green with olive trees and flowers, protected by caves and nestled into dried straw and grass: Venetian presepi come smaller and simpler than the famous Napoli nativity scenes. Still, I think they are worth being looked at, as they are small and look almost private: Starting Christmas, and until 2 February, the Churches in Venice exhibit their Christmas cribs, as churches in Italy usually do.
Prespi in Venice often look like tiny gardens representing the birth of Christ scenes, and to my Venetian uncle and myself it is a dear tradition to visit cribs and to take pictures of course. After Christmas, I usually take a day or two to visit the carefully prepared presepi located in lesser known churches in Venice. These presepi differ considerably from each other, by style, size, colors, materials, much more than Southern Italian presepi do – these Venetian varieties may represent a good source of surprise. There are presepi in the Venetian houses too, you find them even more often than Christmas trees, as presepi are a tradition reaching back to San Francesco d’Assisi when Nativity Scenes were represented for the first time in the year 1223.
The Italian tradition of building presepi is concentrated in the Naples and Amalfi areas. The meanings of backgrounds, figures and scenes presented at Italian presepi is defined by an excellent South Italian website, Arte del Presepe. But – as you will see, presepi in Venice are different. To get an overview and to be able to put them into their framework, the wintry calli e campi di Venezia, I am showing not only Nativity scene photos but also the background against which they need to be imagined. To see some typical and simple Venetian presepi, in the sestieri Castello and Cannaregio, you might start in Campo Santa Maria Formosa: in the mornings from 10:00 am onwards, churches are usually open.
We start out in the winterly Fondamenta dell’Osmarin, crossing the Rio dell’Osmarin to reach Corte Rota and continue towards Campo SM Formosa and its Church. Here you can enjoy after-Christmas peace and quiet, and today also the sun.
From the bridge spanning Rio del Rimedio we enter the Campo in the late morning, and savor the chiaroscuro light – colors are particularly bright, clear and mild in January.
Round the corner where the people are going to in the picture above is the entrance of the church, and here you can take a look at the first presepio: a simple one, draped in sheets of white, red and golden velvet and brocade cloths.
Afterwards, we continue and from the bridge spanning Rio di SM Formosa, we take a last look back towards this Church with its double facade and two entrance doors (one towards the Campo, the other one towards the Canal) …
To take in this scene at San Giovanni and Paolo, take a look at the video below:
We are now continuing towards the Chiesa di San Crisostomo, a dark red church on the throughway from Campo San Bartolomeo towards Strada Nova. But before we pass through one of my favorite spots in Venice – the area around Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and its campo and secret archways with turqoise still waters.
From here, it is a fine half hour to turn back to Strada Nova, and to walk on towards the Chiesa degli Scalzi to look at its presepio (second film below). And on its way, there was also a presepio next to the Ca d’Oro (below).
And there would be more for us to see – a presepio floating on water in the opposite direction of Venice, for example:
|Presepio galleggiante on the Rio dei Mendicoli – source of picture: You Reporter (I need yet to go there too)|