The nativity scene of Light
in the Sistine Chapel

by Giuseppe Passeri and Eva Antulov

Project - Construction - Implementation

Artistic nativity scene for the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, designed and created by Giuseppe Passeri and Eva Antulov for the Holy Christmas Season 2022

On the 5th December, Mons. Diego Giovanni Ravelli, Master of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, blessed the nativity scene in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums. It was a liturgical celebration that was both simple and spontaneous. All those present were able to savour the spirit of Advent with the festive and joyful atmosphere that was accentuated by the musical ensemble played on the papal organ.

The crib displayed under the frescoes by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Rosselli and Signorelli was conceived and created by the artists Giuseppe Passeri and Eva Maria Antulov. This is their fourth crib in the temple of art which is the Sistine Chapel. This year the two artists have chosen "Light" as their philosophical and spiritual theme for the crib in the Sistine Chapel.

The light that is opposed to darkness, or to those who do not open their hearts to welcome the Child that the Virgin Mary bore (cf. Mt 1 Jn 1). In that magical, historic moment when Jesus was born, the true light that brings grace and life came to earth. It is a light that was reflected in the Angels. Previously, in fact, an Angel appeared to the Virgin of Nazareth to announce that the grace of the Holy Spirit will descend upon her. Then, in a dream, an Angel also appeared to Saint Joseph to tell him that the mystery that he cannot understand is of God and revealed the Saviours name: Jesus (cf. Mt 1). Finally, not just one Angel, but a multitude of Angels appeared to the shepherds (cf. Lk 1), to those who were willing to open their minds and their lives to the Saviour. Therefore, they are an example to us of how to find the light of the birth of God that erases the darkness of the world (cf. Homily, St. John Paul II, 24 December 1980).

The crib on display is in Neapolitan style from the end of the 18th century. It is presented as if it were a view from a window on people's daily lives. The style, in fact, allows the two artists to express not only the art of creating individual scenes with inspiration, imagination, playfulness and colours, but also to narrate the symbolism that each part of the Neapolitan nativity scene conceals.

With passion and dedication, a scenography was created. Firstly, with choice materials, including wood, cork, stucco and glue, according to the detailed project developed by Arch. Comm. Giuseppe Passeri. The colours were produced by G. Passeri, thanks to his experience in the pyrotechnic field and his extensive knowledge of minerals and natural pigments that give life and expressiveness to the crib. Colours such as the blue of lapis lazuli, the earth of Siena, yellow ochre, Indian yellow and many others were prepared by him with ancient and, by now, forgotten and unknown procedures.

The background landscape is a painting specially created by Dr. Eva Antulov to give depth and light to the crib scene. It was also her care to dress the characters in clothes expressly designed and cut from fine fabrics from various parts of the world. To embellish the crib, as in past editions, valuable minerals have been included in the work. For example, a rare jasper found in the islands of the Tuscan archipelago, a beautiful series of azurites found in the mine of Alnif east of Bou-Azzer in Morocco as well as desert roses and a rare, crystallized chalcedony stalactite found five hundred meters below sea level in a cave in India.

It took five months to realise this artistic work and the artists were helped in their endeavour by others who assisted with their research of materials and especially in the technical installation of the crib in the Sistine Chapel. These people came from different parts of the world: the Ukraine, France, Germany and Italy.

The nativity scene can be admired in the Sistine Chapel until 14 January 2023 via a visit to the Vatican Museums.

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