Presepe piccolo [Small Nativity], by Arturo Martini, is a concave terracotta cast, humble in its rough material and “primitive” shapes. In the foreground is one of the Magi on horseback. The figures shrink as they rise: men, a woman, animals, trees and rooftops, all packed together to protect and keep the Infant Jesus warm. The frontal view almost necessarily comes about as a result of the back of the sculpture being flat and hollow. It was designed to be hung on the wall. But the image is far from flat. At the two sides, Martini continues to mould, with a simple joy that brings the shapes to life in his hands, as if he were a pasta chef. And here, the figures become even more retiring and humble, distant as they are from the centre, almost shrinking from our gaze. You have to move to the side to glimpse a figure lying on one side, its head facing upwards, waiting. Moving to the other side, you can see two docile sheep huddled up, close together, with another sheep above them, upright, almost vigilant, also waiting.
The event has already passed, but those on the margins appear to be still waiting. With the quiet strength that comes from confidence.
In this time of waiting, let us hope that beauty will help us all look forward to the New Year with confidence.