Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Nativity’

No detail too small: the intricate spectacle of a Neapolitan Nativity

In a large number of countries the Nativity scene (Belem in Spain, Presepe in Italy) is as big a part of the Christmas festivities as the lights switch-on in London’s Oxford Street or the Christmas tree at the centre of a family home. Having gone to Catholic school as a boy, I still remember the prominence with which the Nativity set was placed in the front entrance, and how perplexed I was (and remain) that the teachers remained insistent that the Jesus figure should not be placed in the manger until Christmas Day: but this is a school I thought – who on earth is going to see it during the holidays?

Despite the fact that the tradition of setting out a nativity is centuries old in many a catholic country, the general belief is that it all began in Italy where St Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 at Greccio, Italy. There he is said to have recreated the birth of Christ through placing people dressed in the various nativity roles in a cave. A tradition was born, and perhaps for this reason, it is arguable that Italy has remained the predominant master of the nativity craft. This is not least in Naples where, in the famous Via San Gregorio Armeno, the entire street is given over to the craftsmen who make every intricate detail of the characters and setting of the Neapolitan presepe. 

DSC02526 DSC02529 DSC02532 DSC02548 DSC02545 DSC02560 DSC02558 DSC02535

While last Christmas I braved the crowds who had crammed their way up the dark side streets of the Spaccanapoli to get a view of this famous Neapolitan craft, this year I have had the fortune to see their masterpieces at far closer a proximity. For here in Palma de Mallorca, but 2 minutes from my flat in an inconspicuous church on the Carrer de San Miquel, there is a Neapolitan gem of its own. Set out across a mountain plane simulated from the supple bark of a cork tree, and comprising a phenomenal range of architectural features and carefully characterised figures, this Nativity demonstrates why the Neapolitan craft remains so renowned. Not a single detail of street life has been missed, from the slimy pig’s head sold by the Butcher, to the bag of eggs swung by the old housewife. What tickles me are the gruesome details of their lined faces, and their masterful expressions – so full of personality you’d swear they were alive. 

DSC02567 DSC02564 DSC02562 DSC02555 DSC02537 DSC02540 DSC02527

In fact Palma de Mallorca holds the nativity or Belem dear to its heart, with a trail tracing once fantastic Belem to another across the city. But few could deny that the real brilliance of Belem craft has been mastered by the Neapolitans, as the nativity photos above demonstrate so well. 

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 

Christmas comes to Palma

I feel like I am living in something of a hybrid world. By day, Palma feels at worst like a day in early autumn, with freshly fallen leaves still scattering the pavement; at best it could be late summer or spring. However by night, when log fires burn within the old town houses and the late-opening shops glow from outside and in, it can feel very Christmassy. But any doubts that I may enter into the Christmas spirit following my relocation to the Mediterranean were completely dispelled last Friday when Palma de Mallorca initiated the great switch-on of its Christmas lights.

Switch-on in the Plaça de Cort

DSC01214 DSC01224 DSC01215 DSC01252 DSC01234 DSC01239 DSC01422 DSC01218 DSC01240

In the Plaça de Cort at the heart of Palma’s old town, so many people gathered that it was as if the whole of Mallorca had descended to witness the city leap into the Christmas season. Excited children sat up on the shoulders of their parents, while on a stage set up for the event, school choirs sung Christmas carols angelically. Then finally just after 7pm, the mayor appeared on the balcony of the majestic renaissance town hall and switched on the lights. Gasps of pleasure rippled across the crowd as we saw the walls of nearby houses, balconies, and even the skies come alight with Christmas light. Thousands of lights had been strung across the spaces between buildings, over squares, and even wrapped around tree branches so that the trees seem transformed into magical forests. Even palm trees, normally synonymous with tropical beaches and summer sunshine, had their trunks dressed in Christmas lights forming illuminated pillars lining Palma’s waterfront.

DSC01352 DSC01373 DSC01280 DSC01414 DSC01282 DSC01341 DSC01374 DSC01383 DSC01401 DSC01441 DSC01375 DSC01439 DSC01291 DSC01292 DSC01263 DSC01253 DSC01281 DSC01247

The city looks nothing short of stunning. Walking around its lit up streets is like being in an open air winter wonderland – a fairytale come to life before our eyes. And it’s not just the children whose eyes are widened by this spectacle. Adults too are visibly excited by the arrival of Christmas, frequently posing for photos before this array of light, and strolling around full of the festive cheer it brings.

And with the lights have arrived Christmas markets in many of the city’s squares and streets, most notable of which can be found in the brilliantly lit Plaza Mayor. There, stalls in their plenty sell nativity figures both traditional and more handmade to be placed within the Spanish “Belenes” – the most important of the traditional Spanish Christmas decorations. There is nothing that has not been thought of when it comes to building a Belen, from little water-running fountains to mechanical blacksmiths and plants and trees of every variety.

DSC01430 DSC01402 DSC01428 DSC01406 DSC01407 DSC01434

So Christmas has truly come to Palma, and I can’t deny that despite the warmer climes, I am starting to feel the Christmas spirit take me over…Time to decorate!

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved.

The Norm Nativity (New Year’s Extra) | Madonna Norm Enthroned

Norm Nativity? I hear you ask – Didn’t we just laboriously put away our Christmas decorations for another year? Well yes. But while the birth of Jesus Norm may be over and done with, of course his life (in story terms) has only just begun. While this could theoretically lead me onto all sorts of Norm sketching paths, I have paused for the moment on a time of celebration of the birth of Jesus Norm – when the Catholic Church faithful, in their reverence to Mary Norm, recognised her role in this miraculous birth and promoted her to “Madonna” and enthroned her on high. So here she is, sat upon a mighty adorned throne with Jesus Norm, a clearly intelligent child, already installed with a book (or gospel, whatever it may be).

Madonna Norm Enthroned (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold paint on paper)

Madonna Norm Enthroned (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold paint on paper)

So why have I chosen to add this extra little scene to my Christmas Norm Nativity on what must be the equivalent of at least the 20th day of Christmas? Well, if the connection hasn’t already struck you, I was inspired to draw this additional little Norm sketch by a painting which was hanging in the Gallerie dell’Accademia and featured in yesterday’s post on Venice Day 3 – Antonio Rosso’s Madonna Enthroned. Having used Rosso’s work as the basis of my own Norm Madonna enthroned, my Norm finds herself inadvertently sat in a throne elegantly embellished with the Venetian lion of St Mark alongside all sorts of other religious characters, while at the foot of the throne below, Madonna Norm is greeted by an accompanying troupe of musical angel Norms, playing a perfect harmonious accompaniment in melodic celebration of this wonderous birth. Hallelujah – Madonna Norm is enthroned!

More gold-based Venetian lavishness coming up…tomorrow!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

The Norm Nativity | Jesus Norm is Born

And so it was in a little dirty stable on the outskirts of the small town of Bethlehem that Mary Norm gave birth to a baby Norm called Jesus Norm. And at that moment all of the heavens broke forth into song; the stars across the globe grew brighter, and one dazzling star in particular guided the most eminent of guests to pay homage to this new King of all Norms, including, in particular, the Three Wise Norms from afar. And so upon this first Christmas Day, which Norms all around the world now celebrate, this little dazzling baby-Norm was placed in a cosy hay-filled manger, while before him the local Shepherd Norms and their little sheep looked on, awestruck by the glory of the occasion; besides him Nancy the Donkey and a charming Ox called Oliver provided comfort and warmth; his daddy Joseph Norm gazed upon him full of pride; and the Three Wise Norms brought forth their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Hallelujah! Jesus Norm is Born!

The Norm Nativity: Jesus Norm is Born! (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen, ink and gold paint on paper)

The Norm Nativity: Jesus Norm is Born! (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen, ink and gold paint on paper)

So that is the end of our story; a Norm Nativity told through pen on paper with lavish layers of gold paint. What was to come of Jesus Norm you may well ask? Well, we’ll leave the answer to that question, perhaps, for another time.

Until then… a Very Merry Christmas to you all, from me, and from the Norms everywhere.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at http://www.delacy-brown.com

The Norm Nativity | Visit of the Three Wise Norms

The Shepherd Norms weren’t the only Norms heading towards the stable in Bethlehem. Three exceptionally wise Norms who each in turn lorded over little glittering neighbouring kingdoms in Eastern Normland had heard about the birth of a new King of Kings, a Norm to save all of the world, and decided that it was only right and proper that they visit this future great Norm a visit. And how to find this little Norm who had been born in a mere stable without an address? Well luckily an ever brightening star had appeared before their path, and guessing that the star was acting as a kind of celestial guide towards their destination, the three Wise Norms followed the star towards Jesus Norm.

The only problem was that the star kept on moving, and as it did so took the Wise Norms over fields and mountains, rocky plains and wide expanses of perilous sandy desert. Luckily they were not on foot, travelling instead upon the seated humps of their trusty camels, ensuring that not only their lavish persons remained clean and unweathered by the journey, but also that their presents of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh remained safely installed above all of the sandy terrain. Let’s hope they make it to Bethlehem safely…

The Three Wisenorms (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold paint on paper)

The Three Wise Norms (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold paint on paper)

Come back next time, to see where both the Wise Norms and the Shepherd Norms ended up! In the meantime, here is Matthew’s account of the Magi’s visit, the only one of the gospels to mention it.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path.

Matthew 2:1-12

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

The Norm Nativity | Angels visit the Shepherds

In the last installment of the Norm Nativity, we left poor Mary Norm and Joseph Norm upon their arrival in the little town of Bethlehem. With not a room to be found in inn nor hotel, they were facing a night out sleeping rough – hardly the best conditions for giving birth to the promised one. Luckily for them, the surprisingly sharp intuition of Nancy the donkey led them all to a far warmer and cosier alternative (if a little pongy) – a stable on the outskirts of town, where soon enough Mary Norm lapsed into the inevitable agonies of labour, and gave birth to a darling little Norm baby who they called Jesus Norm, who was very soon comfortably installed on a bed of hay in a manger.

The birth of Jesus Norm very soon caused waves of celestial excitement. Above the stable, a particularly bright star grew even brighter, and in the stars around it, angel Norms started gathering to celebrate the birth, flying then from place to place to spread the great news. One of the first places they visited was a nearby field, where a group of shepherds sat about having a little evening supper after a hard day looking after their not insubstantial flock. When the shepherds caught sight of a group of angels coming towards them, they almost collapsed in shock – their poor little sheep didn’t know what to do with themselves and promptly hid behind their shepherd masters. Only when the excitement of the news relayed by the angels sunk in did the shepherds (and the sheep) begin to settle, jumping up with some excitement and declaring that they must visit the baby forthwith!

So unto Bethlehem the shepherds headed then, to see little baby Jesus Norm in all his glory. Join the Norm Nativity next time to see who else is making their way to celebrate the birth.

Angels visit the Shepherd Norms (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold paint on paper)

Angels visit the Shepherd Norms (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold paint on paper)

In the meantime, here’s how another writer, one Luke, described the angels’ visit in the bible:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 

Luke 2: 8-15

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

The Norm Nativity | Journey to Bethlehem

In the last instalment of The Norm Nativity, we left Mary Norm just as she had learnt the startling news, from her visitor Angel Gabriel Norm, that she was due to give birth to a son called Jesus Norm. The visit from a flying angel would have been startling enough, but the news that Mary was somehow inexplicably become pregnant despite being an untouched virgin was enough to make the hardest of souls go soft in the head. But not Mary Norm. Strengthened with the affirmation that the baby Norm she was carrying would one day be a saviour of the world, she was determined to do this properly. And so, having told her then boyfriend, now hubby Joseph Norm the rather stunning news (and having finally got over the months of arguments when he accused her of having an affair – it was inevitable I suppose), Mary Norm and Joseph Norm set out on their old little donkey, Nancy, and made their way to Bethlehem, the city of Joseph’s birth and thus where they were required to register the oncoming birth of their child.

As Luke more eloquently tells us…

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  
This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
And all went to be registered, each to his own town.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Luke 2:1-5

Journey to Bethlehem (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold paint on paper)

Journey to Bethlehem (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold paint on paper)

So over hostile terrain they travelled for days, their worldly possessions, and the heavily pregnant Mary Norm pilled upon poor Nancy’s back, trekking across dessert and wide open plains until finally they could see the little town of Bethlehem glittering like a mirage in the distance. But their relief was short lived, for no sooner had they made out the outline of the city than they had caught sight of various road-side advertising posts advertising hotels and inns – yet all of these adverts bore the ominous news that all of the accommodation was booked up! (Well, it was Christmas I suppose…) What would Mary Norm and Joseph Norm do? Find out… next time!

The Norm Nativity | The Annunciation

In 2011, I brought you the Norm Christmas Carol. Last year we watched the developing tale of Normy and Normette’s turbulent relationship in the 12 Days of Normy Christmas. And this year I bring you, exclusive to The Daily Norm, The Norm Nativity! It’s a story which is known throughout the world, which fostered a global religion two millennia ago, and without which there would be no Christmas. But never before has the Nativity story, favourite of nursery schools throughout the land, been played out by the Norms. That is, until now.

It all began with the Annunciation. When, 9 months before Christmas day, the Angel Gabriel Norm visited Mary Norm and told her the startling news that she was to give birth to a son called Jesus Norm. Incredulous with disbelief (and having dropped the sponge in shock which only moments before she had been dutifully cleaning her dusty terracotta floor with), Mary could not understand how she, having not indulged in any such…err…action as could be said to lead naturally to the instigation of a pregnancy, was to have a baby. But at that moment a little dove flew through the air, and appeared almost to pierce her belly with life – some would have it that that very dove was the Holy Spirit incarnate.

Norm Nativity: The Annunciation (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold ink on paper)

Norm Nativity: The Annunciation (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold ink on paper)

And so it was that Mary Norm became pregnant with a little baby Norm who’s name she already knew. But an old writer known as Luke puts it much better than me:

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
For with God nothing shall be impossible.
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38

Nine months later and with a baby Norm well on its way, it was time for Mary Norm and her new husband Joseph Norm to register their forthcoming baby, and of course for Mary Norm to give birth. Find out what happened in the next instalment of the Norm Nativity… coming soon!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

All the joys of the Nursery School Nativity

The photo says it all doesn’t it. Deserted old baby doll, an MDF crib and a hastily assembled sheep made from silver foil rolls, cotton wool and PVC glue. Add to this several pairs of gold cardboard wings, some tinsel halos, 3 paper crowns (sharp-edge free), plenty of stripy sheets and even more recycled curtains and what do you have? The show any perfect Christmas wouldn’t be without: the School Nativity. It’s the pride and joy of every parent, but also the source of their greatest anxiety: Will they remember their words? Will they cry or have a tantrum mid-way through? Or will they, like the nightmare of one parent at a nativity my sister attended last year, projectile vomit all over the front row of the audience? For the teachers, even the smallest nativity is a mass production of prodigious strategic complexity… reminding the children to smile, to sing, to stop picking their noses, steering the little angels in the right direction, and pulling them away from where they’re not meant to be, remembering the words to the carols on their behalf and of course watching out for that same nativity-shattering tantrum.

Nativity Norms (Pen on paper, 2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Read more