This is a picture of santons, clay figures depicting life in a Provence village – notice the costumes of the card players, the Provencal dresses of the women, the attention to detailin the expressions and postures – a true work of art and a labour of love.
Santon comes from the Provencal word santoun which means little saints and the people who make them are called santonniers.
Santon history goes back to the time of Francis of Assisi when he created the first nativity scene.
But 1789, during the revolution, churches had to be closed; cribs and biblical characters of the churches were no longer allowed. An artisan from Marseille, called Jean- Louis Lagnel, moved on to make santons of the people of the villages, portraying their lives, their trade, and their occupation.
Today, the making of santons is a thriving Provençal craft; there are many santon museums and fairs in the Provence, especially in Marseille, reputed to be the birthplace of santon culture. The Santon fair in Marseille, organized by the organization of Santon makers is held from the last Sunday in November to December 31.
The little figurines have already appeared in our local market; many Provencal homes will have Nativity cribs with precious figures they've had for ages. The village church will soon display the crèche Provencal with the traditional biblical figures including the three wise kings, shepherds and angels.
Particularly exciting also, is the imagination and talent of the young santonniers of today -- thanks to these artisans, this wonderful tradition of santon making is truly alive.