The atelier of Ulderico Pinfildi, the supreme master of crib art, is in San Gregorio Armeno, in the heart of Naples. He grew up in the family workshop, and he likes to define his history as a true genealogy. Opened in 1986, the atelier is led by Ulderico and his wife Imma, who took over from his father Alfredo. In his house-shop you can breathe the atmosphere of that extraordinary world of which the Neapolitan crib has been a unique expression since the eighteenth century.
Tell us your story!
A stick of clay, a table, a neon and frost. The hands, the only extraordinary tools of the artisans, frozen. Heated cloths were used for modeling clay. The wonderful Neapolitan nativity scene is like this: a work of transformation. I grew up fuelled by clay and passion. It was natural that I would work with my father in the workshop, the home of the whole family. I saw my brothers, sisters and mum working on baked and painted pottery. I don't know what it means not to model, not to paint, because my history, my life is a nativity scene. Who writes about me says that I am an artist. My atelier in Naples continues the story. My brothers are with me. My works, my shepherds, each of my small or large sculptures, is like a daughter and bears the sign of the birthright. All my family history, all the Neapolitan crib art tradition, all the passion and love I can, are in the work that I create.
All my family history, all the Neapolitan crib art tradition, all the passion and love I can, are in the work that I create.
What I feel like saying to young people is that you can live on art, it is not a second-class job, indeed it is not a job, it is an attitude, a gift that not everyone has but which requires sacrifice and a lot of study,
The Nativity scene is synonymous with tradition, a tradition that is strong and rooted in Naples, your city. How do you combine a centuries-old know-how with the requests for innovation that today's times impose?
When I speak of the Neapolitan tradition of making cribs, I can only tell of this entirely Neapolitan invention, of giving birth to Jesus in Naples, among the ruins of Herculaneum temples and landscapes of the Kingdom of Naples. I find this idea brilliant. Just consider that one of the most popular sculptors for nativity figures was Giuseppe Sammartino, author of the more well-known "Veiled Christ". Trying to find innovation in an art form so rooted in its origins was not easy, but one day something happened that triggered the spring: using my nativity figures as actors and becoming a director in arranging them in compositions that told other stories. It was impressive to see how certain scenes from the biblical story are still relevant today.
A strong point of your creations is the anatomy of the characters. How is such a high degree of plastic perfection achieved?
Making faces, hands, feet or naked figures has always been a great passion for me, but it requires a lot of study and know-how. The study of anatomy applied to art opens up a real world. Obtaining softness and truthfulness in an artefact while taking what I call "licenses" leads you to confront first of all with nature, the only great teacher. As I always say, we must learn to "look" around us because everything is there at hand. But my passion for the human body means that I am never satisfied: perfection is always a goal to be achieved.
From what do you draw inspiration for your works?
I always answer very simply to this question: just look at our artistic heritage of the past, at painting or sculpture, study it, make it your own and reinterpret it. My inspiration comes from there, from 17th century painting, Caravaggio above all and Michelangelo, Bernini and the other great painters and sculptors of the past.
What colours do you use and how are they chosen?
The colours I use are acrylics, even if using them requires great speed and decision. They tend to dry very quickly, and therefore the speed of execution and precision becomes fundamental. The tones of the incarnates arise from a careful study of ancient painting, since in the crib the complexions establish the social class to which the figures belong. But in the end there is always the "secret" that each artist carries with him, linked to the patina processes and the use of waxes that give the characters a unique charm.
This year you will host an apprentice from the "A School, a Job. Training to Excellence" project in your atelier. What do you want to say to the young people who nowadays decide to undertake this profession?
Being able to pass on one's knowledge to a boy who is thirsty to learn an ancient art is in the nature of an artisan. What I feel like saying to young people is that you can live on art, it is not a second-class job, indeed it is not a job, it is an attitude, a gift that not everyone has but which requires sacrifice and a lot of study, experimentation and patience. to reach high goals without ever stopping. Having the opportunity to transform an idea, a thought into a work visible to all makes us lucky people.