View RSS Feed

Crèchemania Blog

An Antique Crèche, A Gift from Svatava Vizinová

Rating: 6 votes, 5.00 average.
This "Antique" crèche is a reprint of a 1900 vintage nativity, and features a new back, complete with Gothic window, courtesy of 
After my Basilica videos, I decided to give up all the Photoshop cutting and pasting — and try an X-acto knife, instead.

The reason? Creating a new back for a lovely Czech nativity that my friend Svatava Vizinová sent me for Christmas.

"It was printed in 1900," she writes, "in Vjperty Town. This is a reprint, of course, and the name is Antique.

I instantly recognized it as the beautiful nativity I had seen in Milan Zábranský's collection when I visited him in Prague. Milan, a Professor of physical chemistry, loves creating shadow-box crèches from vintage clock cases and cutting out and assembling nativity scenes. (I know you'll enjoy the account of my visit with Milan and Jana.)

Milan's original nativity showed signs of age, especially on the right side of the manger (see photo, below left). But, even in it's non-pristine condition, it was beautiful: Over 15.5 inches high, 12 inches wide, and 3 inches deep, it's size alone commanded attention.

Then there's the artwork. The manger, in the form of a Greek temple, features twin marble columns that taper to almost an Egyptian fluted capitals that support a triangular pediment. An arch spans the space between the columns, and above it, the words "Gloria in Excelsis Deo!" in capital letters.

Palm trees drape over and on top of the manger, a cyclamen blooms to its left, and The Nativity is housed within it.

On a second plane, the Child is asleep in its crib, while Mary and Joseph look on. Two Magi and a young attendant red costume kneel, while a third King of the East — in Babylonian hairdress — approaches.

The back wall differs from the rest of the composition, an off-white expanse, scored by thick lines to delineate individual bricks or stones.

Maybe, because of the Basilica, I had Gothic windows in the brain, and felt that the background of Milan's version was more suited to this nativity.

Apparently at least two versions of this nativity were issued. This is a reproduction of the one featuring a brick wall background. 

The background had to go

Then, too, I remembered how much fun my good friend Celso Rosa and I had tearing apart one of my prized nativities — yikes! — so we could scan its back for one of his crèches that was incomplete.

So, I figured, if I was capable of doing that to a vintage crèche, surely I could manage removing the brick wall (see photo, left) and replacing with Milan's Gothic windows.

First, I copied the graceful outlines of Milan Zabransky's vintage nativity's Gothic window. Then, I cut out that window from the heavy matte paper that I used as the new background.

I could have simply used a nice neutral shade of construction paper, but I wanted the background to mirror the light-and-dark look of the manger. So I printed it with two shades of dark ecru after applying a gradient for that "natural" look.

Now I'm thinking whether to duplicate the star that is attached by a pin and revolves upwards, for safekeeping when the nativity is folded.

So, what do you think? Which version of the "Antique" Nativity do you prefer?

I'll have ask Svatava what she think when, later this summer, I visit her Zábrdské Betlémy Crèche Museum in South Bohemia, the Czech Republic.

Her invitation arrived just a few days ago:

Milan Zábranský's original features a Gothic Window and a Star of Bethlehem. 

My Dear Friend,

I am very pleased about your promised visit to see my modest work!!!

I am awaiting that day with pleasure.

Be prepared, Friend, for my simplicity in conditions of life — and a greater simplicity in my English…

Also, we have arms and legs…

When is necessary to understand each other people are using their hands and leggs... conversation pantomime... For example yesterday were here Italian collectors. I am bad in English, they were in the same level. We helped our every English word to come to the world with our leggs and hands. You will see.These parts of our body can speak an international language...

Waiting, with warm feelings,


"I sold my flat and bought a great old retirement home with a great hall." Svatava has written to me. "It was a great magnet for me — for my nativity scenes… dogs… thousands of books, pictures, music collections, and so on — in the countryside, surrounded by nature."

I almost made it to Svatava's Museum in p. Husinec a few years ago, but, at the last minute, my schedule dictated that I head Down Under, instead.

But this time I'm stopping in the Czech Republic after my stay in Russia. I've got my St. Petersburg-Prague ticket in hand, and very much look forward to meeting Svatava — and Karel Zimmermann, a Professor of Physics who teaches in France, crèche Enthusiast, and friend of Svatava, who has kindly offered to meet me in Prague and drive me to Bohemia.

"During Easter," Karel writes, "I have seen a very nice crèche museum in Trebic. There is, in South Bohemia, also a museum in Jindrichuv Hradec. And, in the north-east part of the Czech Republic, there's Trebechovice with its famous wooden mechanical crèche (unvailed at the World Exhibition in Montréal), and many others.

"Another collector is Mr. F. Karas, in Prague, who proposes to invite other crèche enthusiasts at his house to meet you. Among them will be the author Mme Hánová. How much time will you have there?"

Jirina Hánová, co-author of Betlémy (Nativities; in Czech, published by Lika Klub)?

And Milan and Jana? I may never come home!

Submit "An Antique Crèche, A Gift from Svatava Vizinová" to Digg Submit "An Antique Crèche, A Gift from Svatava Vizinová" to Submit "An Antique Crèche, A Gift from Svatava Vizinová" to StumbleUpon Submit "An Antique Crèche, A Gift from Svatava Vizinová" to Google Submit "An Antique Crèche, A Gift from Svatava Vizinová" to Facebook Submit "An Antique Crèche, A Gift from Svatava Vizinová" to Twitter

Alexis' Blog