(b. 1720, Napoli, d. 1793, Napoli)
Coloured terracotta, height 29 cm
The Nativity inspired a type of sculpture that allowed the period's taste for the theatrical to vent itself freely, but on a miniature scale. This was the 'crèche' or Nativity scene (presepio in Italian), an art that was virtually a Neapolitan monopoly. Neapolitan presepios were exported all over Europe. Some of them transcended mere artisanal ingenuity and were true works of art; indeed, some of them were modelled by sculptors who felt equally at ease carving on a monumental scale. This was manifestly the case with Giuseppe Sammartino, a Neapolitan who was deeply attached to his birthplace and who carved statues for many churches in Naples.
The deftly modelled and painted terracotta figurines of the Presepio shown here are his handiwork.The grouping is masterly; the dynamic composition perfectly calculated to produce a dramatic effect, one strongly emphasized by the picturesque character of the setting. The shadows, familiar objects, and details are placed with an unerring touch.