Over the Christmas period the cathedral parvis is adorned with a crib comprising life-size terracotta statues depicting the Holy Family. For the third year running, to mark the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December, the crib will be blessed by Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, the metropolitan archbishop of Florence, after massin the cathedral.
The statues of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and the Christ Child are unique hand-made objects in the round created by an artisan named Luigi Mariani in a historic kiln in Impruneta belonging to the M.i.t.a.l. – AngioloMariani e Figlicompany, which has generously donated them to the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. This year the statues depicting the Holy Family are joined by those of an ox and an ass. This kind of work reflects the ancient Florentine tradition of terracotta sculpture which, in artistic terms, was born in Florence in the early15th century when this ancient technique was revived by Donatello and Brunelleschi.
The iconographical theme chosen this year is the Early Renaissance in Tuscany. The overall composition and star-spangled sky were inspired by frescoes by such masters as Giotto and Fra Angelico, the vegetation and festoons were inspired by the work of Ghirlandaio and the Della Robbia brothers, and the furnishing and utensils are those of a Florentine household in the 15th century.
The crib is situated on the opposite side of the cathedral façade to Giotto's bell tower, close to the large Christmas tree erected by the city authorities, and it will remain there until the Feast of the Epiphany, when the crib's appeal will be increased immeasurably by the replacement of the terracotta figures of the Holy Family and the beasts with living people and animals to greet the traditional Cavalcade, or Procession, of the Magi.