Showcase of the Neapolitan Baroque at Colnaghi for London Art Week

18th century neapolitan crèche (presepe)

Exhibition on the Art of the Neapolitan Baroque Featuring Intricately Crafted, Monumental Nativity Scene Opening at Colnaghi for London Art Week

18th century neapolitan crèche (presepe)
18th century Neapolitan Crèche (Presepe)

Opening in conjunction with London Art Week, Colnaghi presents a special exhibition showcasing the enduring creative legacy of Old Master artists and artisans from Naples. Marking the first exhibition in London devoted to the Italian city and its arts in over forty years. As the centrepiece of NAPLES, Colnaghi will, together with Dario Porcini, present a magnificent 18th-century crèche, known in Italian as a presepe, a monumental Nativity scene traditional to Baroque Naples. The exhibition will also feature a selection of religious, landscape and still-life paintings by some of the greatest artists who worked in the city during the 17th and 18th centuries and served as inspiration for the craftsmen of the presepe, including Jusepe de Ribera, Luca Giordano, and Massimo Stanzione. NAPLES will be on view at Colnaghi from 3 December 2021 through the festive season, until 25 February 2022.

‘Our winter exhibition in London transports our visitors to Baroque Naples and will feature important paintings by masters of the period, as well as a monumental presepe‘, says Chloe Stead, Senior Global Director of Colnaghi. ‘Boldly transgressing artistic hierarchies, presepi unite different media and techniques to realise extraordinarily elaborate and exuberant Nativity scenes that provide incredible glimpses into life in Naples at the time. Our presepe, created during the golden age of these works, is one of the most important examples outside Italy and reflects all the vitality and craftsmanship for which the Italian city is still known’.

The recreation of Nativity scenes with modelled figures and animals during Christmastime was widespread throughout Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries. By the 18th century, what originally had been a relatively simple temporary tableaux underwent a transformation in Naples into highly dramatic and theatrical creations, often monumental in scale. These crèches combined traditional sacred elements of Nativity scenes-the Holy Family, wise men, angels and shepherds-with aspects of contemporary Neapolitan life-rowdy tavern scenes, processing musicians and bawdy market shopkeepers-in dazzling displays of artistic techniques.

The presepe at Colnaghi, dating from the 18th century, is one of the very few and finest of these masterpieces of the Italian Baroque outside Naples. Crafted from oil painted terracotta, carved wood, painted glass, shaped wire, tin and cork, with stitched silks and linen to recreate the detailed fashions of the time, the presepe stages the sacred scene in a true-to-life Neapolitan setting and measures a remarkable 340 x 445 cm in scale.

Other exhibition highlights include:

  • Two paintings by Jusepe de Ribera, including an Ecce Homo, signed by the artist and dated to 1644 and considered a high point of Neapolitan Baroque art; and Saint John the Baptist, 1630s, which showcases the bold gesture and a melancholic landscape typical of this artist.
  • The Penitent Magdalene from the early 1640s by Massimo Stanzione, considered a great rival to Ribera. Signed with an elegant monogram, this well-preserved picture with its vivid, jewel-like sky is particularly unusual example of the artist’s work on copper.
  • Two large-scale canvases by the celebrated artist of the later Baroque period, Luca Giordano, who was trained by Ribera. The Triumph of Galatea from the artist’s Roman period, c. 1675 – 1677, and Shepherds with their Herd (The Riches of the Earth), 1684, both reflect the artist’s ability to express the drama and pathos of religious and mythological subjects.
  • Still lifes of fish, crustaceans and other seafood by Giuseppe Recco from the 17th century, including two loans from the collection of Lord and Lady Rosse that have never before been presented outside of the dining room of Birr Castle.
  • Landscape paintings by Antonio Joli, lent by Lord Montagu from Palace House, Beaulieu, presenting views of Naples-one depicting the Palazzo Reale and Castel Nuovo, and the other a view of the Largo di Palazzo at carnival time. The works were commissioned by an ancestor of Lord Montagu during his Grand Tour.