And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have made the first Nativity scene (or crèche) in a church at Greccio, Italy, in 1223. His idea brought the Christmas story to life and provided a new way to celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ birth. Though centuries have passed since, artists around the world continue to contribute to, and expand upon, the flourishing tradition of Nativity art.
Last Christmas, Canada Post celebrated the Nativity with a commemorative stamp featuring a sculpture of the infant Jesus. Created by renowned Italian-Canadian sculptor Antonio Caruso, the sculpture is part of a manger scene consisting of miniature wood statues. The figures, incredibly complex in their detailing, were engraved from lime wood and measure two to five inches in height each. They are currently part of an itinerant exhibit that will tour various North American cities, including Winnipeg, MB, in October, Philadelphia, PA (U.S.), in November, and Oshawa, ON, in December.
This year, Caruso’s phenomenal Nativity sculptures will appear on three new stamps. The international stamp will feature the Shepherd; the domestic stamp will feature the Madonna and Child; and the U.S. stamp will feature the Magi. The figures are arranged on the souvenir sheet as they appear in the crèche. Toronto graphic designer Joe Gault explains, “When positioned side by side, they work together as a set and tell a story.” However, he notes, “The three stamps also vary considerably, each working as a unique artwork when applied to envelopes individually.” Last year’s Nativity stamp also appears on the souvenir sheet and first day cover, enhancing collectibility by bringing all four together as a set.
Michael Rafelson of Toronto’s Exit 136 Ltd. photographed the sculptures, and Gault later clipped and re-coloured them digitally. Drawing on the sacred text that inspired the scene, he folded material to create the illusion of a cloudy, desert background, before combining all the elements into a composition.
Collectors will notice the different perspective from which the scene has been approached this year. For the 2008 issue, a close-up of the infant Jesus makes it seem as though the viewer is observing the scene from above. In this issue, the perspective is distance and broadened, allowing a more inclusive depiction of the Christmas Story. “This point of view is more representative of the sculptures themselves,” says Gault. “It’s the angle from which we are accustomed to seeing the crèche.”
For more information about Antonio Caruso, visit http://www.antoniocaruso.com/. The site also contains information about The Gallery, located in Maple, ON, where a permanent exhibit of Caruso’s artworks is on display.
About the sculptor
Antonio Caruso (born in Italy on March 28, 1951) studied at the Brera Fine Arts Academy of Milan and the Carrara Fine Arts Academy of Bergamo. His specialties are fresco, frescografia, and wood sculpture. An active artist in Canada since 1982, Caruso weaves Canadian themes into his work, and has found the country to be fertile ground for his artistic development. His artworks are featured in private collections, museums, cathedrals and churches in North America and Europe.
The Nativity Scene on stamps
Canada Post began the tradition of featuring Nativity art on stamps in 1965, with an issue featuring the Gifts of the Magi. In the years since, the Nativity Scene has been portrayed in children’s illustrations (1970, 1975) stained glass windows (1976, 1997), gouache illustrations (1977), early Renaissance paintings (1978), icons (1988), Aboriginal art (2002), and more. The stamps have provided excellent opportunities to celebrate the birth of Jesus through Canadian art.