These scenes originated from medieval paintings depicting the birth of baby Jesus.
These scenes originated from medieval paintings depicting the birth of baby Jesus. Thus, the mourning of Jesus Christ was replaced by the celebration of his birth. The first creator of a Nativity scene is thought to be the Italian sculptor Quido Mazzoni in the 15th century. His Nativity scenes were made out of clay.
The oldest mention of an exhibited Nativity scene in the Czech lands is from 1562. Although they were initially displayed in churches, Nativity scenes gradually spread into the homes of people and villages as well. Folk creators of Nativity scenes placed the scene of baby Jesus’ birth into the environment which surrounded their villages. They depicted reality and combined it with their ideas of exotic lands, animals and clothing.
There are many types and sizes of Nativity scenes, generally two groups: Box-type small scenes were stored in the attic and brought down for the purposes of Christmas caroling. Nativity scenes with figures - had to be assembled every year, took a large part of a room and were rather large. Each year one or more new figures were added to the scene.
There are also miniature Nativity scenes inside bottles.
The materials also varied - wax was not very popular amongst people, unlike mock-ups. These figures were made out of wooden skeletons with carved heads, legs and arms. Pieces of cloth or paper were then soaked in glue and attached to the skeletons and shaped into bodies and clothes. Wooden carved figures were decorated with polychrome. The town of Králíky is famous for the production of wooden Nativity scenes - hence the name “the Kralice Nativity scene”. Entire families would make figures about 2 - 15 cm tall. Every family member had a task - the carver would carve the bodies and the rest would then attach arms and decorations while helpers would color the finished figures with temperas or oil paints. The Králice figures were always similar even though they were made by different people.
Ceramic Nativity scenes were made only occasionally. Mostly various soft materials were used - dough, paper, plaster - which could be poured into moulds. Flour dough was easy to shape and the shape was preserved after drying. The disadvantage was the frailness of the material, as well as its tendency to attract insects. Paper mixed with potatoes and plaster proved to be a more durable material. These types of figures were commonly sold at Christmas markets.
Another type is the 2D Nativity scene. They were based on wooden board Nativity scenes from the 18th century. Even today, this is a very common type which is available in many stores offering Christmas items.
The typical Czech Nativity scene comprises the following characters:
Baby Jesus, ox, donkey, Virgin Mary, Joseph, The Magi (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar), shepherds and sheep, figures bringing gifts for baby Jesus: vánočka (Christmas bread), goose, flour, keg of beer..., musicians, angel with the inscription Gloria in excelsis Deo. The entire scene is topped with the star of Bethlehem flying across the night sky. Other figures can also be found, including hunters, chimney sweeps, millers, artisans, journeymen, farmers, farm helpers, pub keepers, night watchmen, goats, ducks, children. Simply the village in its entirety.