NAPLES (Reuters Life!) - Wikileaks founder Julian Assange may be alone in jail in London, but in the traditional Neapolitan Christmas creches he is in good company — with Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Assange, who is depicted holding his trusty lap top, was created by Gennaro Di Virgilio, who each year chooses at least one contemporary character to sculpt and place near the scenes of the traditional story of Jesus’ birth in a manger.
“I included him to poke a little fun at the world and have a good time,” said Di Virgilio, 29, whose family has been making nativity statuettes and ornate creches since 1830.
In recent decades, artists and craftsmen who make Neapolitan creches have used them to portray the signs of the times.
“In a sense, Assange is the man of the year,” said Di Virgilio, whose tiny shop is one of many on a narrow Naples street named Via San Gregorio Armeno that specialized in Christmas statues, creches and trinkets all year.
There is only one copy of the Assange statuette, which costs 130 euros. Di Virgilio says he will make others on request.
There are, however, multiple copies of statuettes of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that Italians can place in the manger with the Holy Family, the wise men, the ox and the sheep.
This year, the southern city’s garbage crisis has become a recurring theme among the artists and craftsmen along the street, which is barely three meters wide.
And so it came to pass that the Madonna, St. Joseph and even the baby Jesus wear face masks to protect themselves from the stench of the uncollected garbage in Naples.
“I meant this to be a provocation to those who govern us. I don’t think it’s nice to put sacks of garbage in the manger near the baby Jesus but it was necessary,” said Di Virgilio.
“We needed to get this message across,” he said.
Last month, the European Union said Italy could face huge fines because it had failed to comply with a European court ruling on the chronic Naples garbage crisis that has left tons of uncollected trash on the city streets this year.
The crisis has subsided and most of the historic center has returned to normal. But huge piles of garbage were still strewn on the streets of peripheral neighborhoods.
Neapolitan creches, whose origins go back several hundred years and developed into an art form in the Baroque period, have traditionally included others besides the Biblical characters of the Holy Family, the Magi as well as barn animals and shepherds.
They have included bakers, blacksmiths, weavers, fishmongers and over the years became mechanized with miniature wine and olive presses to portray every day life.
More than 10 years ago, the artists on the street began broadening the cast of characters to include contemporary figures such as soccer superstar Diego Maradona.
Berlusconi continues to be a hot item. There are versions of him burning in hell like a Dante-esque character, of him on his knees asking his wife forgiveness for marital transgressions and with a teenaged nightclub dancer known as Ruby.
Editing by Paul Casciato