As well as these elegant figures, we also have an entire Neapolitan crib on display during the Christmas period. The buildings are by Pasquale Aloiso, who is one of the few craftsmen in Naples still specialising in this art form. The great cribs were huge, almost operatic assemblages which would have literally hundreds of figures each of about a foot high, re-enacting the nativity scene in a ruined classical temple overhung with angels.
Baudelaire once said that toys are a curious kind of sculpture, a child's initiation into art and these seasonal figures certainly approach the condition of sculpture in their delicacy and parodic gestures, but they also give insight into domestic life in 18th-century Italy.
Apart from these extravagancies, the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood also holds the national collection of toys and dolls, one of the largest in the world, including one dolls' house made in Nuremberg in 1673. A perfect initiation for any child into the world of art.
Anthony Burton is head of Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 (081-980 2415), Mon-Thu 10am-5.50pm, Sun 2.30-5.30pm.Reuse content