Crèche of the Year: Argentina
CHICAGO, December 2013 – The beloved holiday exhibition Art and Faith of the Crèche: The Collection of James and Emilia Govan returns this year at the Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA). The exhibition will be on view now through January 12, 2014.
Every year since 2009, LUMA has exhibited during the holiday season crèches donated to the museum by Washington, D.C. collectors James and Emilia Govan. This gift comprises over 500 works created by artists and artisans from over 100 countries.
Beginning in 2012, LUMA decided to highlight a crèche with ties to a world event. This year the work comes from Argentina and was created by Mario Mendoza in 2009. LUMA choose this particular crèche to celebrate the election of Pope Francis in March of this year. The 266th Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aries, Argentina. He is the first Pope elected to this sacred office from the Society of Jesus, the religious order of priests that runs Loyola University Chicago.
Reflective of Argentinian culture familiar to the new Pope,Argentinian Nativity is filled with colorful flavors found in the country where it was made. In this scene, we see a couple dancing the gato, a fast waltz, to the sound of local musicians; an ox cart with a cow-skin canopy, once seen on streets all over Argentina; and a rhea, an ostrich-like creature indigenous to several countries in South America. The three wise men offer nontraditional gifts of silverware, a clay vessel, and eggs in a basket.
The origins of the crèche can be found in 13th-century Italy with Saint Francis of Assisi. Before his Christmas mass in the town of Greccio in 1223, he decided to create a live nativity scene replete with humans and animals cast as Biblical figures in order to illustrate his teachings. Shortly thereafter, Pope Honorius III gave his blessing to the exhibit, and demand by both clergy and laypeople for nativity scenes grew, eventually spreading across Europe. Works were both two and three dimensional. Several hundred years later as Christianity spread throughout the Americas, Africa, and Asia, artists began to incorporate native elements into their crèches to reflect the place where they were created. Elements, such as architecture, clothing, flora, fauna, and gifts from the wise men, took on a decidedly local flair.
Crèches in the Govan Collection range from a single unit of the Holy Family to complex, multi-figured scenes that show daily life in villages. One of the more elaborate crèches on view is a szopka, a crèche with origins in Kraków dating to 19th-century Poland. The artist has included buildings found in Kraków as a backdrop to the nativity scene.
Many of the crèches on view have an interesting story of how they were acquired by the Govans. Gifts from family and friends and commissions by the collectors helped to build the collection over 40 years. Today, Govan looks for crèches from countries not yet represented in his collection and delights in finding crèches with compelling stories, such as the one from the West Bank. It was created by a Muslim artist and given to Govan, a Christian, by a Jewish friend.
To learn more about the Art and Faith of the Crèche: The Collection of James and Emilia Govan, visit LUC.edu/luma.
Image Credit: Hanneke and Les Ippisch, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, crafted in Montana, wood, paper, wire, ribbon, The James and Emilia Govan Crèche Collection; generously sponsored by Ms. Joyce Ruth Saxon, a Martin D’Arcy Society member and LUMA docent
Opened in 2005, the Loyola University Museum of Art is dedicated to exploring, promoting, and understanding art and artistic expression that illuminates the enduring spiritual questions of all cultures and societies. As a museum with an interest in education and educational programming, LUMA reflects the University’s Jesuit mission and is dedicated to helping people of all creeds explore the roots of their faith and spiritual quests. Located at Loyola University Chicago’s Water Tower Campus, the museum occupies the first three floors of the University’s historic Lewis Towers on Chicago’s famous Michigan Avenue. For more information, visit the museum’s website at LUC.edu/luma.
Art illuminating the spirit!