The crèche

Created by Angelo Urbani del Fabbretto sometime before ‘74, this crèche is set in the Rome of the previous century and, like all crèches, retains among its more varied aspects the reality of space and place represented. Around the sacred family are shown elite familesbut also figures dressed in a different style from the populace, perhaps guests on an inn in the area, not far from Piazza Navona, where, in the Eighteenth century the Vicolo del Corallo ran (of which the street sign remains). The crèche on display here was for many years assembled near to Piazza Navona during the Christmas period.

Angelo Urbani del Fabbretto (1903-1974), Presepe di ambientazione romana ottocentesca (particolare)

Crèches were originally used in Rome as rich spectacle created by the well off to excite wonder; in the early Nineteenth century their use extended to craftsmen and small business men, conserving, however, the traditional characteristics which defined them even at a local level. Crèches, therefore, were not only on display in the convents and churches (such as the famous one in the Aracoeli church) and in the aristocratic palazzi, such as that of the Boncompagni Ludovisi princes or the Borgheses. A shoemaker in the Regola area, for instance, is known to have had one on his terrace in 1802, visible through a window which had been made to represent an aperture in a rock face.
The terracotta figurines used in the crèches became known at Rome as "pupazzi" or "pupazzetti", and the craftsmen who made them were known as "pupazzari".
The father of Bartolomeo Pinelli, who worked at a potter, also made figures for the creches.
The "pupazzetti" were generally bought from the pot ovens on the Via di S. Maria in Cappella or from the street fair that was held in piazza S. Eustachio (near to the Pantheon) during the period before Christmas. From Christmas to Epiphany toys and knick-knacks for the children’s festival of Befana were also sold there.
In 1872 the Befana fair was transferred to Piazza Navona. The tradition continued, although in a different place.
The tradition of crèches from elsewhere also continues in Rome as in all of Italy.
One of the few Roman families of figurinai (the artisans who construct the crèche statuettes), which passed on the craft from generation to generation until 1944, was the Sgarzini-Carbone family, whose last representative, Francesco Sgarzini, made his pupazzi in the style of Pinelli. His kiln and workshops were in the Vicolo del Cinque, in Trastevere.