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PRESEPE NATIVITY SCENE by FRANCESCO ARTESES TO BE EXHIBITED IN TURKU, FINLAND

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The Nativity Scene (the traditional Italian “Presepe”) created by the world renowned artist, Franco Artese was exhibited in the cathedral of Turku, Finland. With inspiration from the Gospel of St. John 1:14 “… and dwelt among us”, the artist has chosen the “Sassi” of Matera, A UNESCO World Heritage site, for the natural scenery of the Nativity Mystery. This initiative has been realised thanks to collaboration between the Italian Cultural Institute of Helsinki, the Region of Basilicata, through its Tourist Board (APT Basilicata),  and the local Finnish Authorities. The exhibition is entitled, “Basilicata Treasures: Secret Garden of Southern Italy”.

Mr. Artese’s creative work represents the greatest expression of traditional Italian artistic handicraft. The Artist, born and working in Basilicata, Southern Italy, has received important acknowledgments from across the world. He has exhibited similar works in the USA,  Bethlehem on behalf of UNESCO, and for Christmas 2012 in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City.

For the realisation of this “Presepe” , the Artist draws inspiration from the cultural landscape of the “Murgia Materana”, the karst landscape surrounding the City of Matera. This landscape is adorned by more than 150 cave churches, monasteries and sanctuaries and has witnessed the presence of many religious people (Italo-Greek and Benedictine monks), who between the VI and the IX centuries decided to live in these sacred places.

The same landscape became the setting for many Biblical movie masterpieces, such as The Gospel According to St. Matthew by Pier Paolo Pasolini, King David by Bruce Beresford, The Passion of Christ by Mel Gibson and The Nativity History by Catherine Hardwicke. The quality and the historic-cultural value of these places; Matera and the Murgia area, have been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The Artist, through an extremely precise landscape, sets his work in this particularly suggestive context, the natural scenery of the City of Matera, where houses and beautiful glimpses, together with the characters which give life to the “Presepe”, symbolise a perfect, unexpected expressivity. The agricultural world of Southern Italy opens the doors to the Holy Family of Nazareth and the whole town becomes dwelling for it.

The portrayal of the Nativity focuses on the tenderness with which the Virgin Mary embraces her child as she gently caresses his face, while an equally tender St. Joseph watches over his family. The three are carved in one block to symbolise the solidity of their family and the destiny that awaits them. This is not an image of royalty but of deep simplicity and humility shared with the meek and laborious community around them.

The background of the Nativity is the Crypt of Original Sin, a Lombard-Benedictine monastery with the oldest example of Rupestrian art in Southern Italy. This Church has been called the Sistine Chapel of rock-hewn churches because of the theological and artistic importance of its mural paintings. In this masterpiece, Artese has reproduced some of the extraordinary frescos showing the Creation and the Original Sin. In particular there are three apses representing the Triarchy of the Apostles, the Archangels and the veneration of the Virgin Mary.

All around this central scene, the Crib is given life and colour by the many figures that represent the humble and friendly Lucanian rural civilisation, joyfully receiving the Holy Family in the midst of their simple, everyday life with their trades, rites and ancestral traditions.

Size: 30m wide, 4m high

Materials: polystyrene covered by a layer of resin stucco resembling “tufo” (volcanic tuff) with elements in metal, wood and terracotta.

Statuettes: 27cm high, made entirely in terracotta by Artist Vincenzo Velardita, and dressed by the sisters Nadia e Daniela Balestrieri in starched clothes reproducing the typical costumes of Lucanian tradition. The facial features and postures of the statuettes have been designed by Artist Artese, based on paintings and photographs of the Lucanian farming society during the 1930’s.

Artist: Maestro Francesco Artese (Grassano, Basilicata Region, Italy)

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