Arts & Entertainment

Colonial-era nativity scenes herald Christmas in Quito

By Daniela Brik

Quito, Dec 21 (EFE).- The Christmas season provides the occasion for showcasing the tradition of creating nativity scenes combining European and indigenous elements that flourished in Quito in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Museo San Francisco, erected on the foundation of the first Franciscan church in what would become Ecuador’s capital, built in 1536, has more than 50 nativity scenes on display this year after having to cancel the exhibit in 2020 due to Covid-19.

“We know it here as the Quito nativity or the Quito baroque: the representation of the birth (of Jesus) with images reproduced during the colonial epoch,” museum administrator Pablo Rodriguez told Efe.

Over time, indigenous artisans began to introduce native elements that differentiated their creations from the European models.

“Depending on the skill and intention of the craftsman we can have, for example, highland or Andean tableaux that represent the nativity with an indigenous child or virgin,” Rodriguez said.

A nativity scene made of marzipan lacquered in bright colors that evoked Andean fabrics and another set in a grotto under a rendering of Franciscan monastery faithfully reflect the mix of native and colonial traditions, knitted together by spirituality.

The products of the Quito baroque school of nativity scenes gained international repute and in 2006, Franciscan Friar Walter Verdezoto, known as “the father of the 500 nativity scenes,” organized the first exhibition.

Rodriguez told Efe that the decision to resume the exhibit this year was a token of the museum’s “spiritual commitment” to the memory of Verdezoto, who died of Covid-19.

A visitor to Museo del Carmen Alto, housed in a 17th-century Carmelite convent, is greeted by an elaborate nativity scene featuring some 300 individual figures.

The pieces “represent not only the episodes relating to the birth and childhood of Jesus, but also a series of characters of everyday Quito across the different eras,” Myriam Navas, the museum’s coordinator, told Efe.

The local touches include a group of “very elegantly dressed” Afro-Ecuadorians playing musical instruments and dancing and female street merchants in Andean garb.

With a collection of more than 400 figures, Museo del Carmen Alto varies its display from year to year.

The focus of the 2021 edition is a depiction of the holy family’s Flight into Egypt, but with Mary carrying Jesus in her arms on the back of a llama, instead of the traditional burro. EFE db/dr

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