In December most households in Italy set up their presepe, or nativity scene. The basic parts are the stable or manger, with figures of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the donkey and the ox. Many people expand the scene with depictions of village life, the shepherds and the three wise men. Traditionally the presepe is set up on December 8th and taken down after the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. The first recreations of nativity scenes date back to early medieval times with the “father” of the presepe commonly considered St. Francis of Assisi who set up such a nativity scene in 1223 in order to represent the Christmas story visually for the great majority of people who could not read. There are many carved nativity scenes that are famous in art history such as the one by Arnolfo da Cambio (1289) in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The city often associated with the presepe is Naples where artists and artisans have a history dating to Baroque times of creating detailed and fantastical carved representations of the nativity. Some examples of Neapolitan nativity figures can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum until January 7th.
There are still a few weeks left to see the Met Breuer’s retrospective of Marisa Merz. Merz, who was born in 1926, is the only female member of the Turin-based Arte Povera movement and spent much of her career in the shadows of well-known men, including that of Mario Merz, her husband. This exhibit brings her into the forefront and her works are revelatory, both intimate and grand. Arte Povera’s distinctive trait was the use of cheap or discarded materials to create works of art that are often on a monumental scale. Marisa Merz arranged her works in her house, rather than in a gallery, and they seem to have arisen from her home life and base regardless of their size. There are about 100 pieces in this show and it is strange, moving and beautiful, worthy of its name: “The Sky Is A Great Space.”
Carnegie Hall has organized a festival dedicated to the music and arts of the Venetian Republic – La Serenissima, or “Most Serene Republic.” The Republic grew from Byzantine settlements in a lagoon to a great maritime power and commercial center that was essentially a crossroads between East and West. It flourished for over one thousand years until it fell to Napoleon in 1797. The festival traces the cultural evolution of the Republic with a series of Venetian-themed events of concerts, opera, theater, art and lectures that are taking place at Carnegie Hall but also in other venues.
A lovely exhibition at the Frick showcases the drawings of Andrea del Sarto, the Florentine sixteenth century artist. The show highlights the creative process and the role of drawing in the Renaissance workshop. The drawings on view at the Frick span del Sarto’s career. They are amazingly nuanced and mostly in red and black chalk. Possibly the most striking drawings are the various head studies, amongst which are the Study for the Head of Julius Caesar – most elegant – and the expressive Study for the Head of Saint John the Baptist. Also in the exhibition are three finished paintings, including a masterful (the draping of the sleeve – wow!) Portrait of a Young Man and an innocent yet sensuous Saint John the Baptist from Palazzo Pitti.