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A Crèche for the Sistine Madonna

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A vintage front, a new Gothic apse —a perfect setting for the Sistine Madonna? 
This vintage crèche features stunning art, a glossy finish and familiar figures.  
The story of Raphael's celebrated 1512 masterpiece, the Sistine Madonna, is the stuff of legend.

Commissioned by Pope Julius II for the altar of the Benedictine Monastery of San Sisto (hence the name "Sistine"), in 1734 it was purchased and brought to Dresden, by Augustus III of Poland.

During World War II, the Sistine Madonna, which miraculously survived the bombing of Dresden, was carted off by the Russian to Moscow, where it found a place of honor in the Pushkin Museum.

After the war, as a gesture of good will by Russia, the Sistine Madonna was returned to Germany, to the Old Masters Gallery in Dresden.

This beautiful example of Renaissance high art became an icon of German Romanticism, inspiring artists — including the one who created the Raphael Madonna Crèche.

The Raphael's Sistine Madonna stands on a a carpet of clouds, and so does the German crèche artist's depiction.

But in the crèche, The Madonna is not flanked by Saint Sixtus and St. Barbara, but by a standing and two kneeling angels.

In the background, the cloudy firmament of the Sistine Madonna is replaced by Gothic arches and windows decorated by cellophane and colorful diamond-and-circle motifs.

And at the center of the background, on top of carpet-covered steps, is found a Christmas tree whose branches are lit by candles.

I've often contemplated a Crèchemania version of the Raphael Madonna Crèche, and when my buddy Celso Rosa of Brazil sent me a scan of a church-fronted nativity, it was time to go to work.

This version of the church-fronted crèche features a different set of figures, putti on the roof, and a darker, matte, finish. 
I happened to have three versions of Celso's nativity in my collection, and two are shown at left, and above left.

The figures of the two nativities differ: one features ones familiar from the Thurible Nativities, the other from the Dome Nativities.

The latter also must also have included — beside the ox and ass peeking from behind the doorway at right — an extra layer on the front, as evidenced by the slot and tab still found there.

A setting for the Sistine Madonna?

But it was the lovingly-rendered church crèche front that inspired me to begin work on the Sistine Madonna Nativity.

It features a flowering trellis climbing the stone front and draping over the round balustrade, a tree leaning against the belltower, and a tree leaning against the belltower, and a quatrefoil piercing a Gothic arch.

I thought this Gothic arch beautifully complemented that of the background of the Raphael Madonna Crèche.

So that background would be perfect for the Sistine Madonna, but first I would have to design from it a set of Gothic arches, thereby creating an apse, a perfect setting for the Madonna and Child.

A perfect setting for the Sistine Madonna — an apse of Gothic arches.  
You see the result at left (shown without the angel).

Oh, the trials and tribulations of designing 3D constructions! If I had known in trigonometry class how to figure out the slope of the front opening to match the Gothic arch angle my life would have been made much easier! But, as they say, where's a will there's a way, and so I persevered.

The challenge, as you can see from the image at left, was that the arched apse had to lie perfectly flat against the white front. How easier said than done.

The solution, when it finally came to me seemed so straightforward — as all solutions seem to be in hindsight.

And creating the double windows, the interlacing stone ribs and quatrefoils lots of fun. I even cut an oculus opening at the very top to allow light to stream in.

Now, I'm thinking of dispensing of most of the church front and keeping just the arch. Maybe I should create new outside walls to enclose the apse, topped by red tiles.


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