San Gregorio Armeno is unlike any street you walk down. There are naturally, some things which are similar to every other street in the world. There are walls, and two sides to it, however, this street has one unique thing that others around the world come to visit; the art of the Neapolitan Terracotta.
Dating back to the 1700s there is rarely a site more intricate and beholding than that which is given to these precious works of terracotta. The best way to describe is to actually see them, but for those that can’t let us take you on a little journey.
The nativity is celebrated differently in Italy and certainly the Roman Catholic faith. Where Christmas trees are displayed in the pride and place of a northern European/American home, a nativity scene is that which adorns an Italian’s main stage. Made from intricate displays of papiermache’ and thought out decorating, it becomes a subtle competition of who can make the best, the more surreal, the more intricate display and one which can be shown to the world through social media.
And that is where Giuseppe and Marco Ferrigno, and San Gregorio Armeno come into play. You see, the first double act is a father and son, skilled in the arts of manipulating Neapolitan terracotta to resemble characters from the nativity. They are born into it, they pass it from generation to generation, it is a right of passage in this, the most artisan of trade.
Take their terracotta shepherds. They measure 38cm, they are integral to the nativity display and they are widely regarded as some of the finest works in clay manipulation; and that is without mentioning other characters, where only artistic vision, charm and a tip of the hat to the past makes the biggest differences when it comes to such sophisticated displays.
Each characterisation is perfectly nuanced with Neapolitan culture as well. The fish and fruit vendors of the city today are brought to life in these terracotta displays, done to match the period setting of the nativity scenes as well. These are no ordinary artisan craftsman, their skillset is admired the world over, their pieces can fetch up to 20,000 EUR; their client list will not surprise you as well.
Jose Mourinho to even the Pope, the Ferrigno family like to create porcelain figurines that can have their own place in the nativity, it has even become a national news event to see who they will recreate. From Monica Lewinsky to Donald Trump, Balotelli in his famous shirtless goal pose to Pino Daniele; a close family friend; each chosen that year because they have had a cultural influence in their own unique way too.
Everything, everything, is a nod to the ways of 1700. The production, the craft, the materials and the tools used to make the nativity displays and of course the terracotta figurines that Giuseppe & Marco Ferrigno produce to this very day.
And then there is Luca Salzano, a specialist in the art of glass eye production for these very figurines. There are very few left in the world who can do this job, and there, in Giuseppe & Marco’s workshop, Luca sits and crafts; it is the most artisan display of skill on the market, and the least served.
Let us not forget the stage for Giuseppe and Marco, San Gregorio Armeno. As we said, it’s different, but just how is what makes it what it is. It is vibrant and welcoming, intimidating to first-time visitors and homely for second time passers; it peaks in the winter when everyone gears up for the Christmas festivities. From nomads to celebrities everyone pays a visit to this famous street.
Ferrigno is more than unique, they’re a nationally known artisan, and still proudly Neapolitan.