“Santons” are painted figurines, crafted in Provence, representing characters from all walks of life. The more elaborate are dressed in provençal fabrics, in traditional dress.
The word “santon” is said to be derived from “little saint” and these figurines have a religious background.
Traditionally the figurines were crafted to be part of the nativity scene. Villagers would take their santons to the church to be part of the communal nativity scene.
This scene was not only the “manger” scene with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, and the well known shepherds, wise men, animals etc, but came to be a bigger scene of a typical working provençal village, in traditional costume at the time of the French Revolution.
Local craftsmen produced these santons and many were designed around real-life characters of the village. The families of these characters were pround to add their family figures to the communal village nativity scene, making it representative of the local community.
Thus the santons of Provence are an insight into the trades and professions of Provence and give their nativity scene or “creche” a certain Provençal flavour, bringing together the artisans, professionals and tradesmen in a scene which involves the whole village on its way to witness the birth of Jesus. So the Christmas scene is not something remote in a far-off land but something much more poignant as it brings the whole meaning of Christmas closer to home, with the only santons not in provencal attire, being the holy characters and wisemen who are created in biblical period costume.
Only in the twentieth century did the dressed santons become available for purchase by the general public. Very quickly they became sought after collectibles, representative of a nostalgic vision of Provence with many trades that are now a thing of the past.
The production of santons is a skilled craft withmuch research involved to ensure that the characters are hostorically accurate. Through the attention to detail in the costumes and accessories it is a way of opening the pages of history to have a true picture of a working provençal village.
Throughout the Christmas period there are various “crêches” set up across the region, an opportunity to see these santons at their best
These photographs were taken at an exhibition of Santons at Saint Tropez. Thoroughly recommended
4 December 2010 to 2 January 2011
For further information on santons of Provence