The Sicilian tradition of precious crèche tableaux inaugurated in the seventeenth century in the Trapani coral workshops culminated in the eighteenth century with fantastic mixed media ensembles. Trapani was, until the end of the eighteenth century, one of the main commercial ports of the Mediterranean. The many natural resources of the island were used to create fascinating tableaux. A superlative example of this is demonstrated in the present crèche intricately assembled on a wood base. It utilises cork, most noticeable on the back where the varying strata resemble architectural elements in a rocky outcrop, as well as natural uncarved white and red coral branches, shells, agate and amethystine quartz, textile, glass and above all innumerable fine and intricately carved ivory figures. It can be closely compared to another in the Museo Civico in Termini Imerese Sicily, illustrated in the 1966 exhibition catalogue and believed to be the work of the Tipa brothers, Andrea (1725-1766) and Alberto (1732-1785). Examples of further work in ivory by the Tipa brothers are in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich and illustrated by Berliner. Previously thought to be by Jakob Auer, these finely carved pierced groups are now known to have been acquired by King Ludwig of Bavaria during a tour in Sicily in 1817.
L'arte del corallo in Sicilia, no 177; Berliner, no 440
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