December 20, 2006

Global Seminars & Invited Speaker Series


The Nativity Scene of the Prince: Tradition and actuality

Mrs. Mª Jesús Herrero. Curator of Sculpture. Royal Palace.
National Heritage.

Bethlehem of the Prince (XVIII Century). Royal Palace

Bethlehem of the Prince (XVIII Century). Royal Palace

The Nativity Scene of the Prince, preserved in the Royal Palace of Madrid, has its origin in the figure of the monarch Charles III, who since his stay in the viceroyalty of Naples felt an attraction for the nativity scene B . Upon his return to Spain in 1759, established in the Buen Retiro Palace, he continued with his hobby by installing a Nativity Scene in it, thus following a tradition maintained by the Spanish monarchy since the time of Philip III. From 1761 the documentation abounds on acquisition of figures in Naples through agents as much for his son Carlos IV as for the Infante don Gabriel, germ this one of the crib of the prince.

When in 1764 Charles III moved to the Royal Palace, he maintained his fondness for the Nativity Scene, installing figures and sets in this new space with the help of financial aid of stage designers, scenographers, sculptors, carpenters, masons, glassmakers, silversmiths and people from different trades, giving rise to a multiple work in which the different guilds took part. 

Today, Patrimonio Nacional preserves 80 pieces, a minimal part of what once constituted the Nativity Scene of the Prince, which had several thousand figures. This preserved set includes the group of the Mystery with St. Joseph, the Virgin and the Child, with Spanish figures; the angels made of polychrome wood; the shepherds of the advertisement; and the procession of the Kings, with pieces made in Genoa, being especially striking the procession of King Balthazar. The animals reproduced are particularly striking, especially those of an exotic nature such as camels and elephants, a question that responds to Charles III's interest in zoology since his years in Naples. A particularly significant group is that of the slaughter of the innocents, with figures made of polychrome clay and characterized by the rawness and drama of the gestures and scenes, responding to a very Spanish theme. Some contemporary themes are also included in this nativity scene, especially in the figures of peasants, which increase the folkloric value of the whole.

An essential characteristic of the Nativity Scene of the Prince was that, although its creation was due to the initiative of the monarch, its discrute was public since during the 18th century and until the beginning of the 20th century, it was accessible to everyone upon request and the corresponding permission of the Royal House.