Venetian Nativity Scene
1st December, 2000 - 14th January, 2001
Mały Rynek (Little Market Square)

This time Paul Chaland, the author of the Provençal Nativity Scene shown in the same place a year ago, will present a Venetian Nativity Scene. Eighteen metres long and five wide, the construction includes two hundred human figures and a most peculiar Holy Family presented on board of a boat! After all it is Venice. A city which, much like numerous other harbour cities of the Christian world, saw the icons and figures coming by the sea, and where even the flight to Egypt was shown as journeying on a burcio, an unimpressive barge used for transport of cargo and propelled by angels. It is in one of those burcios that the Infant, Blessed Virgin Mary, and St Joseph from the Venetian Nativity Scene set off from St Mark’s Square. Two angels sit at the oars of the vessel, moving it among the countless workers hammering poles into the bottom of the sea. Their work tells the story of the origins of the city: its inhabitants literally had to ‘pound’ their city into the muddy waters of the lagoon.

The author of the architectural design, of the Nativity Scene, Giorgio Spiller, drew from the paintings of the greatest painters of Venetian Masters and created a city of intermingling and overlapping epochs and times: the 18th century, the Cinquecento, and the Middle Ages. Designed and built by Gianni Traversari, the automatons playing inside the construction were the fruit of long research of works by archaic clockwork masters who employed highly sophisticated mechanisms - a substantial part of the history of automatons. Most of the music that accompanies the show was composed by the late contemporary Venetian composer, Gian Francesco Malipiero with a few passages from Vivaldi, Monteverdi, Biagio Marini, and Giovanni Rigatti.

The main scene is set in St Mark’s Square which we see as if from the pier between the columns of the Piazzetta, later from the direction of the premises of the Procuratie Vecchie. Among the buildings that are spitting images of those actually standing in Venice, throng colourful figures grouped into scenes and clad in clothes drawn from the famous paintings by Tiepolo, Titian, Canaletto, and sometimes borrowed from literature. The Three Wise Men are a true copy of the figurines from the Clock Tower. The Scene cannot have overlooked traditional commedia dell’arte characters. Parallel to the festive events and quite independent from them, the life in the diminutive city with its stores and workshops follows its daily patterns with gondolas cruising the Canale Grande.

Based on a number of earlier texts, including those by Teofil Gautier, the Goncourt brothers, Charles de Brosses, the script of the show was written by Alberto Zorzi, a writer, historian, and a resident of Venice - a true connoisseur and lover of the city. The play begins during the Carnival and we are taken to a variety of ages to become familiar with the city’s faces in subsequent styles and eras: we see it as the city of consummate temptations and utter indulgence and as the city of luxury and plenty - a vast and grand fair teeming with usurers and merchants with not an inch left for love of one’s neighbours. A change of the mood comes with a return to the Middle Ages with their mysticism and the simple faith of the poor who believe St Joseph to be a gondolawright, and angels to work as gondoliers to the Holy Family. The Grand Finale includes a Procession of the Patriarch when every individual pays homage to the Infant Jesus and bows low to his crib: even the Doge and Dogesse wielding their grim symbols of absolute power. No power that be, wherever it might come from and whatever it could stand for, cannot escape the power of Christ’s Nativity and dodge the obligation of peace resulting from it...

As the authors wrote, “the holy story transformed into a commedia dell’arte style performance: the stage, the background, and actors at the fore, and Venice as both the theme and decoration. The city was reconstructed inside a magical box which brings to mind an itinerant theatre: a harmonious microcosm moving in circles to the like of the antique mondo nuovo - an enchanted but credible world: a world that children and dreamers so willingly take a plunge into. The journeying Venetian company, who started in Paris and have been everywhere, travels with a huge red-and-yellow box with automatons, music, and surprises. Once the show has been over, the troupe bows low and thanks the approving public.”

The first show of the Nativity Scene was held in Paris in 1993.

The Nativity Scene will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from 1st December, 2000 to 14th January, 2001, except on 24th December (10 a.m. - 2 p.m.,) 25th December (12 p.m. - 8 p.m.,) and 1st January, 2001 (4 p.m. - 8 p.m.) The exhibition is closed on 31st December. Shows lasting 12 minutes every half an hour (last at 7.30 p.m.)

Tickets: PLN 5, concessions, groups, and families: PLN 3. Tickets for individuals and small groups available at the door 30 minutes before the performance.

Booking: by phone: +48 (12) 431 0018, by fax: +48 (12) 422 1381, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., from Monday to Friday


Golden Sponsors

Supported financially by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage

Media Patrons