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Exhibitions and Projects
Revelations | 1 Dec. 2022 – 1 Feb. 2023

Revelations: The Nativity Scene of Christoph Steidl Porenta, goldsmith and silversmith

Nativity scenes are a central symbol of Christmas, and making and setting them up kindles creative thinking and artistic creativity. Today, this field is very well developed: there is a permanent exhibition at the Museum of Nativity Scenes in Brezje, occasional nativity exhibitions are held every year in many Slovenian towns, there is an Association of Nativity Scene Lovers and the magazine Jaslice (Nativity Scenes) has been published, which has certainly helped to raise the quality of nativity-scene-making in Slovenia.

Every year, the National Gallery of Slovenia mounts an exhibition of artistic nativity scenes by Slovenian architects, sculptors and painters who have in the past dealt with the iconographic theme of the birth of Jesus in various artistic ways, and the selection of the nativity scenes is based mainly on artistic quality and artistic originality. The question of which nativity scenes are artistic is a very complex one, the answers to which can be discerned at different levels, since nativity scenes have an artistic, an aesthetic and a spiritual dimension. The whole setting of the nativity scene is shaped by the figures and the landscape, but in the museum set-up the emphasis is not on the nativity backdrop but on the figures, which are an essential component of the nativity scene. They can also be placed independently and, through their artistic language, they elevate the aesthetic and the spirit of the Christmas holidays.

The nativity scene for this year's installation at the National Gallery was designed and produced by the goldsmith, silversmith and restorer Christoph Steidl Porenta (born in Munich in 1965), and marks the entry into the Jubilee Year of 2023, which commemorates the eight hundredth anniversary of the first nativity scene of St Francis of Assisi in Greccio, Italy. Tradition has it that the saint wanted to symbolically mark the feast day and on Christmas Eve in 1223, in a cave near Greccio, he set up a live nativity scene with a donkey, an ox and a statue of the infant Jesus to represent the event of his birth. During the midnight Mass, attended by religious and faithful, a mystical vision took place. Today, Greccio is home to a church and a convent with a nativity chapel, and St Francis of Assisi is considered to be the pioneer of the nativity scene, which is why Steidl Porenta's nativity scene goes back to the eight hundred year old spiritual spring of the first nativity scene.

The sculptural representation of the nativity scene or of the Holy Family can be seen in several of Christoph Steidl Porenta's works, but there is always a miniature figure in silver that is integrated into a larger art piece. A particular achievement is the reliquary of St Francis of Assisi, which was installed this year in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Brezje, a complex work in terms of content, art and execution. The reliquary is in the shape of a tree and features miniature depictions of events in the saint's life, including the first nativity scene. The nativity scene, which Steidl Porenta designed and produced for the exhibition at the National Gallery, is also a miniature in silver, which emphasises the intimacy of the Christmas event in a symbolic way. For this reason, he depicted only the main protagonists - Mary and the infant Jesus, St Joseph, the Three Magi and an angel. The Holy Family is placed in an illuminated circle, which represents the intimate circle of the family, the green enamel base replaces the moss from the traditional Slovenian nativity scene and is a colour symbol of rebirth, and outside the circle is the desert. Mary is breastfeeding the child and thus giving life, while Joseph is conceived in motion, as if he had come to see what was happening and thus draws attention to the miracle of birth. The angel is not depicted as a little putto, but as an archangel who not only announces but bows down to Jesus. The Three Magi represent the world and people from three continents who have brought the most precious things they have - gold, myrrh and frankincense. However, the artist did not include animals in the nativity scene, which are always present in traditional settings, as they do not seem to be essential in the context of the emphasised intimacy of the Christmas event.

The nativity scene by Christoph Steidl Porenta for the exhibition at the National Gallery of Slovenia is a symbolic personal interpretation of the Christmas event and represents an achievement of artistic craftsmanship in the broad context of the artist's versatile creativity. With these nativity scenes, he has enriched Slovenian nativity art with new approaches and linked it to the noble goldsmith tradition from his native Bavaria, which he has been continuing for three decades in his studio Zlato runo in Ljubljana.

Andrej Doblehar

Presented: Thursday, 1 December 2022, 6 p.m (entrance from Cankarjeva 20)

1 December 2022–1 February 2023
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana