Origin: Naples, Italy
Period: Mid Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Chastleton House, Oxfordshire, UK
Figure Heights: 14 & 17 inches respectively
The part set of Neapolitan moulded plaster and straw filled crèche figures, comprising two standing males and a cow, all on rectangular section wooden bases survive from mid nineteenth century Naples.
The condition of the figures is poor but hugely decorative, the clothing now almost entirely lost, with damages and losses to extremities overall. Originally these figures would have been richly adorned in silks and embroidery but this has long gone.
Naples has been a centre for the production of 'creche figures' for Christmas Nativity scene displays for more than two centuries, and indeed the figures can still be bought in the Old Town. The figures we see here probably represent one of the shepherds and one of the Kings. The animal in the composition could be mistaken for a camel but is in fact a calf. Some Middle Eastern breeds of cattle have the hump of fat behind their necks, much like the Brahma breed common in India today.
These figures came from Chastleton House in Oxfordshire, an estate of importance. A rare gem of a Jacobean country house, Chastleton House was built between 1607 and 1612 by a prosperous wool merchant as an impressive statement of wealth and power. Owned by the same increasingly impoverished family until 1991, the house remained essentially unchanged for nearly 400 years as the interiors and contents gradually succumbed to the ravages of time. The National Trust acquired the house in 1991. These figures were obviously brought back by the owners from mid nineteenth century Italy and forgotten about which makes them even more interesting.
Hugely decorative, utterly intriguing.