Les Santons de Provence
Being from Marseille, the traditions from this region are the most familiar to me and ones that I hold quite close to my heart. Bringing an entire village of Santons to Australia has been a big adventure to say the least – but I am so glad that they are finally here and ready to be admired and enjoyed by Melbourne.
Santons (Provençal: "santoun," or "little saint") are small (2.5–15 cm) hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines produced in the Provence region of south eastern France. In a traditional Provençal crèche, there are 55 individual figures representing various characters from Provençal village life such as the shepard in the wind, the fishmonger, the school teacher, the butcher and so on.
The first clay santons were created by Marseillais artisan Lagnel (1764-1822) during the French Revolution when churches were forcibly closed and their large nativity scenes prohibited. Lagnel crafted small figurines in plaster molds and let them dry before firing them.
A maker of santons is a santonnier, and the creation of santons today is essentially a family craft, handed down from parents to children. Since 1803, santonniers have gathered in Marseille each December to display and sell their wares at the Foire des Santonniers.
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) – both are displayed here at Paris to Provence.
Visit le village des Santons during the festival.