Riccardo Muti, Chicago’s most famous Neapolitan — and music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — takes in one of the treasures of his homeland, a rare Neapolitan crèche, now on display through Jan. 8 at the Art Institute of Chicago. In this video, Muti discusses the work’s significance with Sylvain Bellenger, curator of the museum’s department of medieval through modern European painting and sculpture.
The crèche reminds the maestro of his native Naples, where “the streets and squares and homes had the smell of Christmas,” Muti recalls. “When I see the crèche, I still [imagine] the perfumes of childhood.”
Dating to the mid-18th century, the crèche depicts an intricate Nativity scene with more than 200 figures, including 50 animals and dozens of food and drink items. Newly acquired by the museum, the crèche is “elaborate, complex, and wondrous,” according to the AIC’s press materials, and “a rare example of the genre and a once-in-a-lifetime acquisition for the Art Institute.”
Muti observes that the crèche is not just a decorative or sacred masterpiece — it also represents “the new world, the new hope and the new future of mankind.”