Santon (figurine)

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A santon produce seller
A popular santon design: shepherd facing the Mistral (Le Coup de Mistral).[1]
Nativity scene with santons.

Santons (Provençal: "santoun," or "little saint") are small hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines[2][3] produced in the Provence region of southeastern France.[2] 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.[2][3]

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.[3][3] Lagnel crafted small figurines in plaster molds and let them dry before firing them.[3]

A maker of santons is a santonnier,[3] and the creation of santons today is essentially a family craft, handed down from parents to children.[4] Santons are moulded 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.[4] 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.[4] 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).[4]

Since 1803, santonniers have gathered in Marseille each December to display and sell their wares at the Foire des Santonniers.[3] 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.[3]

External links[edit]


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