Union of Municipalities Behind the Airport

Union of Municipalities Behind the Airport

Třebechovický Proboštův betlém [ Bethlehem ]

The birth of Christ was recorded by the evangelists Mathew and Luke and this record has been an inspiration for depicting this event since the beginning of the Christian calendar to this day. Early Christian art was displayed on the walls of the catacombs of Rome. For example, a fresco in the St. Priscilla catacombs dating back to the first half of the 3rd century depicts only the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus, and the Three Wise Men from the East bowing. After 313, Christianity was recognised as the official religion by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (306 - 337). Early Christian art can also be seen on sarcophagi, where an embossing technique was predominantly applied. Scenes from the life of Christ including those depicting his birth can be admired on mosaics dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries. The oldest depiction of the nativity on Czech soil can be found in the Romanesque Vyšehrad Codex from 1085. The nativity motif from 1134 may be viewed up to these days on wall paintings in the Castle Chapel of St. Catherine in Znojmo, as well as on important panel paintings, for example, those made by the artist of the Vyšebrod Series or the artist of Třeboň Altar, who after 1390 created the so-called Hlubocká Adoration. Other often-mentioned nativity motifs include an altar relief in the Church of Our Lady of Týn in Prague and many wooden Gothic relief nativity depictions, which are housed in collections of prestigious Czech museums and galleries. The nativity motif is also present in one of the initials of the Gradual of Men of Letters from the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Třebechovice pod Orebem from 1559.

In the nativity scene tradition it is necessary to distinguish mere relief or painted nativity depictions from realistic three-dimensional nativity scenes, which are closer to stage depiction and consist of individual parts with the possibility of variations.

The archetype of nativity scenes can also be found in simple dramatic forms as well as religious plays, which separated from the Church liturgy and became an individual form. The often quoted act of St. Francis of Assisi (1182 - 1226) falls within this category. However, many consider it to be a stimulus for the continuing erection of a crib and creation of the nativity scene tradition. During Christmas of 1223, Saint Francis mediated the mystery of the coming of the Messiah into this world to participants in the ceremony in the rock cave near Greccia in Italy. He had a simple crib made and a donkey and an ox brought to the cave. Then he assisted in a mass, which made such an impression on the devout peasants that it was repeated in the following years. The nativity motifs were painted on panels or carved into monolithic relief sculptures; subsequently, figures were detached and placed at the front. From this point we may start talking about realistic three-dimensional nativity scenes, which match the current criteria. The first such set was made by the Italian sculptor and architect Arnolfo da Cambio (1245 - 1301/2) for the Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Nativity scenes started to spread particularly by Church Orders to churches and monasteries, but also to the households of wealthy Italians and further into Europe. Nativity scenes were also spread by the Czech Jesuits. P. Silbert Jolan of Jihlava built the first nativity scene in India during his stay there in 1708 - 1745. P. Samuel Fritz of Trutnov contributed to the South American tradition of setting nativity scenes. In 1728 - 1738, Czech missionaries spread the Ukrainian and Belarusian analogy of the crib called "věrtěp” as far as Siberia. In the vicinity of Polish Krakow, a Christmas play "szopki” - a combination of Christmas plays and the nativity scene became popular.

The main topic of the book is naturally and justifiably Probošt’s Nativity Scene of Třebechovice, which was declared a national cultural heritage in 1999. The nativity scene was made by Josef Probošt (1849 -1926), who despite many obstacles succeeded in carrying out his intention and for forty years of his life performed it with his co-workers, the woodcarver Josef Kapucián (1841- 1908) and Josef Friml (1861 - 1946). The joint work of the amateur woodcarver Josef Probošt, professional woodcarver Josef Kapucián supplemented with moving mechanisms by Josef Friml, is up to this day unique throughout the world due to its artistic and technical qualities. The mechanical nativity scene, which is 7 m long, 3 m deep and 1.8 m high, is admired by professionals as well as the general public regardless of age, nationality or religion. The nativity scene has more than 2,000 carved parts; of these 373 are figures. Some are static, 120 move on belts, and 51 figures reproduce complicated movements of people at work. On seven terraces the "Passion Scenes” take place, because apart from the life of Jesus Christ described in the Gospels, it also depicts the events of Easter Week. Even the ordinary life of Třebechovice craftsmen and Probošt’s neighbours in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is represented here. With only minor exceptions, the entire nativity scene is made of various types of wood, including the cogwheels, shafts and cams of the mechanism. The former hand drive with a crank was later replaced by a small electric motor. The nativity scene travelled around Bohemia even during Probošt’s life. And in the 1930s, around what was then Czechoslovakia, after several changes of ownership. The nativity scene received a good response at the1967 EXPO World Exhibition in Montreal, as well as in Dutch Madurodam and in London, where Queen Elisabeth II viewed it with interest. Since1972, it has been permanently displayed at the Třebechovice Museum of Nativity Scenes.

The chapter devoted to Czech and Moravian nativity scenes is an introduction to information about traditional regions of Czech nativity scene making and about the profile of the contemporary museum collection of nativity scenes; however, it is not a catalogue. The selected nativity scenes, which are presented here and classified according to the material division of the collection, are usually named on the basis of their location of origin or placement or the name of their carver or owner. The Třebechovice Museum of Nativity Scenes is the only specialised museum of its kind in the Czech Republic, which has as its target the gathering, preservation and presentation of historical documents and the contemporary period of Czech and Slovak nativity scene making in its full range. The museum takes care of an extensive collection of more than four hundred nativity scenes. Pointing to many examples of displayed sets, the museum seeks to inform visitors in an accessible way about the events that took place at the crib, its participants and all connections, to help them find answers to questions about the meaning of life and human work and to renew sources of serenity, a feeling of happiness and human solidarity.

The authors of the book want to pay tribute mainly to the creators of Probošt’s Nativity Scene of Třebechovice, to all those that assisted them in its creation as well as those that contributed to preserving this magnificent wooden tale full of humility, poetry and a strong aesthetic experience. Their followers, whether mentioned or not in this publication, deserve full acknowledgement for enabling us with their work to return to "nativity scenes - a work of hands and a reflection of the soul”.


Type: Bethlehem
LAST MODIFY: Ladislav Hollý (archívní záznam) org. 118, 25.01.2005 v 10:50 hodin
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