The Art Of Building The Nativity Scene

For all lovers of tradition and miniatures, here is a small guide on materials, techniques and tools necessary for the construction of a nativity scene.

According to the official history, the first dioramas to be made were those of the Italian scientist Paolo Savi, which date back to the first half of the nineteenth century, and this is technically true if we want to consider that the models are created in such a way as to maintain precise scalar proportions with respect to to the original scene they intend to reproduce.


In reality, however, the nativity scene can be considered as the first model to have been made by human hands, given that its origins date back to the Middle Ages and, in particular, are to be found in the Italian tradition of that period.

A bit of history…


The word crib comes from the Latin praesaepe, which can be translated as crib or manger, but which also indicates the enclosure where sheep and goats were usually kept; the nativity scene, therefore, represents the first miniature reconstruction of a real scenario complete with all the elements: setting, structures, background and characters, and in this case that of the birth of Jesus as described in the Gospels.

That of reconstructing the scene of the Nativity is a religious tradition that originated in Italy during the Middle Ages, as mentioned above, but nowadays it has now spread to all Catholic countries of the world. The tradition of how the scene is composed and which secondary characters take part in it has consequently acquired countless different facets; each population has adapted it by creating its own particular version, in Italy there are even several variations for each region.

The first steps to take


Whatever the specific tradition and the desired version, the construction of a nativity scene requires time, specific materials and tools depending on the desired dimensions, so it is vital that the entire creation process is preceded and supported by an accurate design phase.

First of all, therefore, it is advisable to sketch a sketch of the Nativity in the way you want to represent it and then, based on the sketch, draw a plan plan with the right measures, so as to be able to create the various pieces of the main structure, assemble them precisely and then add all the elements that will complete the scene.



As for the materials to be used, you are spoiled for choice; DIY enthusiasts and model makers who already have experience in making dioramas, for example, know well that starting from recycled materials up to those produced specifically for the purpose, you can make use of anything, and that the the only limit is the available budget.

If you do not have particular needs regarding perfection or size, and maybe you also prefer to save money, then it is preferable to make a nativity scene using recycled materials, such as polystyrene, paper and cardboard, toothpicks and bread crumbs; in ancient times, in fact, in the poorest houses this was the technique used.

The most demanding and those who have in mind to carry out more articulated and complex projects, on the other hand, can rely on clay and clay to be modeled, on small bricks, terracotta tiles and all those other elements, including earth, rocks, sand and vegetation produced especially for modeling.

The level of detail


Aiming for a higher result, the expense to be incurred obviously becomes greater, given that to create a very detailed and realistic nativity scene, regardless of size, in addition to specific materials, complex tools such as micro tools and power tools are also required; on the other hand, however, satisfaction and the extent of the results that can be achieved also grow.

The materials recommended for the creation of a well-structured and detailed nativity scene are a sheet of plywood and polystyrene, to be used for the base, polystyrene or cork again to model the main elements of the scene, that is the ground and the buildings, and stucco or clay to be superimposed on the whole in the right measure to be able to make the surfaces uniform and model them in order to reproduce the most meticulous details. The power tools recommended for making small to medium-sized cribs are the jigsaw and the precision micro tool.

With a good table saw, on the other hand, you can try your hand at creating a large crib, for which it is preferable to use wooden blocks for the main structure, in order to ensure the right resistance and solidity to the work.

Once the base has been made and after having finished it with all the details, you can then add the other elements starting from the vegetation to the animals and characters. These can be purchased ready-made or made from scratch, with the help of wire, clay and modeling tools. Also you can use miniatures of different sizes, in order to follow that particular style that tries to recreate the perspective illusion.

Styles and perspective


In fact, as regards the stylistic aspect, in addition to the perspective one, there are various different techniques to be inspired by. Depending on the size of the crib and the point where it will be observed, in fact, it will be advisable to adopt the style that guarantees the best visual impact. On large nativity scenes, for example, to obtain the best results, the miniatures in the center of the scene are placed according to the vanishing point rule, while those at the edges follow that of the perspective illusion.

In small cribs, on the other hand, you can take advantage of greater stylistic freedom since they can be observed in the round simply by rotating them, or even lifting them if the measures allow it, in order to be examined in more detail.

In conclusion, in the nativity scene project we must not forget to include the lighting system of course, which thanks to the diffusion of LED strips has become far less complex and easier to manage. The more ambitious, on the other hand, can also cherish the idea of ​​inserting a small stream of water within the scene, with the help of an aquarium micropump.

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