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What's in a name? The Oinochoe Nativity

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Finding a beautiful vintage nativity is one thing; finding it in one piece — or a good name for it? — another…

 
Rollover the image above with your mouse to see the vintage version of the Oinochoe Nativity — with the feathered headdress Magi hidden from view. 


 
The original vintage ntativity: a torn, distorted and scratched Front, a Magi placed where he could not be seen. 
You'd think, in an economic crisis, paper nativity prices wouldn't go through the stratosphere. But you'd be wrong.

As I write these words, crèches are selling for over 647 dollars — we're talking about paper, after all — and this auction isn't over yet!

And what's even more amazing, given the high prices, is the state of these vintage nativities: as you take them out of the envelope some are literally falling apart, due to age and acid paper.

Take a look at the vintage Front of the Oinochoe Nativity (more about the unpronounceable name in a moment) at left. The thick cardboard, that beautifully shows off the marvelous embossing, is twisted and torn. Notice, in fact, that the left side wall is completely detached.

Consider the fact that this nativity was held together by fine copper wire and staples (!), and you'll notice the holes caused by the wires and the staples. You may even discern the indents left by the staples on the glossy cardboard surface.

The nativity's other two pieces, the Manger and Roof, show the same age and wear: pieces are broken off here, parts of the image are missing there.

A missing Magi?

It's one thing to be missing bits and pieces — but a whole Magi?

The Kings of the East are mentioned only in the Gospel of St. Matthew:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

 
Side view of the Oinochoe Nativity showing its construction. 
While the Bible doesn't gives us names or a number, Christian tradition holds that there were three Wise Men. And in the vintage Oinochoe Nativity there's Melchior — by tradition the oldest of the Three Kings — kneeling at the left; Caspar, pictured inside the manger, his hands resting on his bejeweled scimitar; but where's Balthazar?

Placed as he is to the extreme right of the Figures piece of the vintage nativity (see image above, left), he remains unseen inside the manger, hidden from view by the wooden beams and brick wall of the Front.

But keeping Balthazar hidden just wouldn't do: look at his splendid costume, the curved scimitar hanging from his waist, his turbaned headdress crowned by three ostrich feathers.

Actually, the feathers, too, were missing, as you can see in the vintage photo (above left). But part of the fun of owning a collection is that the chances are good that another paper nativity may feature the same figures.

This, indeed, is the case: a pop-up nativity in the Crèchemania Collection features exactly the same figures. And, voilà! Balthazar again wears his feathered headdress.

A lost Star of Bethlehem, an empty Gloria banner

Invariably, because the Star often protrudes from the body of a paper nativity, it's no surprise that it's often gone missing. Using elements of its tail, I reconstructed a five-pointed star, since the outline of its three points could barely be discerned.

That left the Gloria banner. I usually leave it until the end, because it's so much fun to play with fonts, trying to find just the right one to suit a particular nativity.

In this case, Agicourt, with it's Old English feel, seemed just right.

Notice how the letters of Gloria in Excelis Deo! follow the undulating banner? The banner text was created in Illustrator — typing on a path, as it is called — then imported into Photoshop.

 
An oinochoe or an amphora? — thoughts of turning a wine container (with one handle) into a water vessel (with two). 
What's in a name?

If I ever stop posting new paper nativities, you'll know it's because I've run out of names!

In fact, naming a nativity is no easy task: after all, how many "Stars of Bethlehem," "Angels Nativity," "Cherubs Crèche," and "Magi Nativity" can you have?

And being particularly fond of this crib, however, I really wanted a distinctive name. But what?

Then it hit me: Oinochoe Nativity, from the Classical Greek wine pouring vessel at Melchior's feet!

On second thought, oinochoe, maybe wasn't the right name? Who has ever heard the word, let alone is able to pronounce it?

"Amphora Nativity" popped into my head.

But I knew you'd know that amphorae (water jugs) have two handles, not just one.

So I toyed with the idea of actually changing the oinochoe into an amphora, as you can see from the image at left.

Still, it didn't look right.

We're talking about Classical Greek names, and since I couldn't ask the Oracle at Delphi for advice, I turned to the next best thing: my alter-ego, crèche collector Celso Rosa.

"I confess that I had to Google the meaning of Oinochoe," Celso writes from Brazil, "and I know most people won't know what it means. But I like the name oinochoe."

So do I, Celso!

Enjoy the Oinochoe Nativity!

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