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Monday, December 22, 2008

The Presepi of Isola Bella

Being on Isola Bella is always a bit like being inside a fairy tale. This 2008 Christmas season it is especially so, as it hosts an enchanting exhibition of presepi, nativity scenes.

Nowhere else in the world has the art of nativity scenes been taken to such a level as in Italy, where the tradition dates back to the 13th century, when St. Francesco d'Assisi found a small stable and asked for permission to construct a recreation of the birth of Christ. Permission was granted, and a tradition was born. It is my favorite Italian Christmas tradition. I lose myself in each one, taken back in time and place, imagining myself right in the scene.

And in a country with literally thousands of presepi, the ones here on Isola Bella are still unique. A private collection, they are displayed here now in the streets, chapels, and alleys that surround the giant palace owned by the Borromeo family, who live there still. Yes, like a fairy tale. The presepi have been gathered here from all over the world. They are constructed of almost any material you can think of. There are large ones and small ones, elaborate and austere. There are about 100 of them here on display all around the island. I hope to have some photos to post soon of these.

In past years these presepi have been loaned to the merchants of Stresa for the Christmas season and displayed in their shop windows. As lovely as that was, I think this is by far a more meaningful and memorable way to take them in. Magical scenes of a magical event, on display in a magical place.



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