Santon (figurine)

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A santon produce seller
Nativity scene with santons.

Santons (Provençal: "santoun," or "little saint") are small hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines[1][2] produced in the Provence region of southeastern France.[1] In a traditional Provençal crèche, there are 55 individual figures representing various characters from Provençal village life such as the scissors grinder, the fishwife, the blind man, and the chestnut seller.[1][2]

The first clay santons were created by Marseillais artisan Lagnel (1761-1822) during the French Revolution when churches were forcibly closed and their large nativity scenes prohibited.[2] Lagnel crafted small figurines in plaster molds and let them dry before firing them.[2]

A maker of "santons" is a santonnier,[2] and the creation of santons today is essentially a family craft, handed down from parents to children.[3] Santons are molded in two halves, pressed together, and fused. Hats, baskets, and other accessories are applied with an adhesive. When the figure is completely dry, it is given a gelatin bath in order to harden the figure further and to provide a surface for the application of pigments.[3] Faces are painted first, then hair, clothing, and accessories. Until the end of the 19th century, santons were air-dried rather than fired in a kiln. As a consequence, such figures were fragile and easily broken because of lack of strength.[3] Modern santons are generally fired in a kiln. There are two types of santons: santons d'argile (clay figures), and doll-like santons habillés (clothed figures).[3]

Since 1803, santonniers have gathered in Marseille each December to display and sell their wares at the Foire des Santonniers.[2] Aubagne Santon Fair in Marseille holds a two-day fair, Biennale de l'Art Santonnier, and the Musée du Santon in Marseille exhibits a private collection of 18th and 19th century santons.[2]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Porter, Darwin, and Danforth Prince and Cheryl A. Pientka. France for Dummies. For Dummies, 2007. ISBN 0-470-08581-9.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Williams, Nicola. Lonely Planet: Provence and the Cote D'Azur. Lonely Planet, 2007. ISBN 1-74104-236-4.
  3. ^ a b c d "Christmas in France". World Book, Inc., 1995. ISBN 0-7166-0876-6.