Nativity Mountain

Austria and Southern Germany have a long and prestigious Nativity culture, but so does Bohemia and Moravia to mention only some for the the countries of the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Although influenced by religious art of Baroque and Rococo, the veritable roots of this culture are found among the peasant population. Farmers during the "good season," many would turn to woodcarving during the winter months. Some of their craftsmanship had a purely functional purpose such as restoring damaged tools and crafting new ones. Devotional objects and nativity sets frequently originated in places with sacred sites, mainly Marian sanctuaries, attracting pilgrims eager to purchase a "souvenir." This happened to be the case of the North Eastern region of Moravia, and of one of its towns with the name of Kraliky or Grulich, in German. Thanks to its Muttergottesberg (1696), Grulich developed into one of the better known centers of the Nativity tradtiion. Grulich crèches, at one time – especially between 1850 and 1920 – disseminated all over Europe, and beyond.

Known as Nativity or Crèche Mountain, the Grulich nativity normally centers around the Nativity Cave, and expands in triangular shape to include town and countryside, only to culminate at its top into the city on the mount, the Heavenly Jerusalem, or the more down-to-earth and recognizable skyline of a major city, for example, that of Rome. The figures are a curious mixture of Rococo sophistication and sturdy peasant art. Grafted involving frequently the whole family, faces and members of these figures may lack the finishing touch and the artistic detail. On the other hand, the use of pink color, and the expression of the body in movement and gesture are a sure remnant of Rococo elegance. As is custom in other Nativity traditions, the many figures are all, in some way, related to the event of Christmas. Some adore at the manger, others point to the Baby; some discuss the event, others bring gifts. They all play a role reflecting the many human reactions in the face of the unbelievable (see list for the meaning of each figure or group of figures).

This crèche mountain in the Grulich tradtiion is not of one piece or of the same origin. Purchased recently in the Czech Republic and in Germany, these crèche figures and buildings cover a period of approximately 50-70 years, the oldest elements dating back to 1830-1850. The figures are carved of fir wood, most of the buildings are cardboard.

ML.3489