The Nativity on display in Bethlehem with the Marionettes of the Compagnia Carlo Colla

The puppet of the one of the Wise Men character created by the Colla puppeteers
The puppet of the one of the Wise Men character created by the Colla puppeteers

The exhibition “Italian Visions and Nativity Scenes. Renaissance paintings and ancient marionette theatre”, designed by Chancing Performing Art in collaboration with the Compagnia Carlo Colla & Figli, and sponsored by the Ministry of Italian Culture, the Consulate General of Italy in Jerusalem and the Custody of the Holy Land, opened on 22nd December in the Bethlehem Peace Center, the cultural centre in the square facing the Basilica of the Nativity.

This exhibition is the first international event as part of “Greccio 2023”, namely a long series of cultural initiatives, exhibitions, concerts and performances organized to celebrate the eighth centenary of the first representation of the Nativity scene in Greggio, wanted in 1223 by St Francis. The many authorities present at the inaugurations included the Italian Deputy Consul Dr Alice Amoriello and the Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem, Mr Nader Rahim.

“During his journey to Bethlehem, St Francis of Assisi imagined how the setting of the nativity in the time of Jesus could have looked,” explains Paolo Dalla Sega, Cultural Director who is coordinating, producing and supervising the initiatives of “Greccio 2023” – “and when he returned to Italy, precisely to Greccio – a small village between Assisi and Rome – on Christmas might of 1223, he recreated with its inhabitants what he had seen here in Judaea, reproducing what we call today the “Nativity scene”.”

“The exhibition presents the finest reproductions of the most beautiful Nativity scenes of Italian art,” Prof. Dalla Sega continues,  illustrating how the great maestros of our peninsula imagined and illustrated the Nativity scene and the images are  alternated with the theatres of the marionettes of the Collas, the oldest family of Italian puppeteers. With their world-famous shows, they have gone round the world, but to date they had never been to the Holy Land, Yet, they have in their repertory a show that seems to have been conceived to be shown here: it is called “The hut of Bethlehem” and it is the story of the Nativity through all those characters who today are in our Nativity scenes: the Holy Family, the angel, the Magi, the shepherds and the sheep.”.

Over the next few weeks, the artists of the Compagnia Caro Colla & Figli /Associazione Grupporiani will be present and on 10th, 11th and 12th January they will be presenting the marionette show linked to the hut of Bethlehem. “And there  will be a new marionette created especially for this occasion,” underlines Tiziano Marcolegio, a puppeteer of the Associazione Grupporiani – “representing the character of St Francis: he will be the herald of the story of the Nativity and will act as narrator in this historic production, where the marionettes that you now seen on display will come to life.” In the meantime, Debora Coviello and Camillo Cosulich, who are also puppeteers of the Associazione Grupporiani, enchant the public present with the marionettes of St Francis and of Pinocchio, the result of the highly refined centuries-old art handed down by the Colla family since the middle of the 19th century.

“This year, we are celebrating the 800th anniversary of the first Nativity scene and this exhibition visibly testifies to its importance over the centuries in art and its great development from the original one in Greccio by St Francis,” repeats fr. Ibrahim Faltas, vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land. “Let’s remember that Bethlehem is a message of peace, the place where our Lord Jesus Christ was born, and where it all started.”

Silvia Giuliano