The Nativity Scene is above all the santon, from the Provençal word "santoun" meaning "little saint". All santons are cast in a first, original mould representing many different, popular Provençal figures, that the santon-maker leaves to dry before varnishing.
He then makes a plaster mould, or, but more rarely, one in resin. The santon is cut at its base and trimmed all around before being pressed by hand for a second time in this mould. It is left to dry in the shade before being trimmed again.
They paint with gouache the lighter colours, such as the face, then the darker ones. The figures are sculpted based on the Maurel pastorale ; some villages add characters, according to their own history.
The first ever santon comes from Marseille ; the oldest mould being that of Lagnel. It is exhibited at the Museum of Old Marseille (the Maison Diamantée).
There exists roughly 3 sizes of santons : the "flea" santon about 1 to 3 cm high, the traditional, thumb-high santon and the large santon that can attain 18 to 20 cm.
Some of them can be dressed in costumes. These are, in general, of the large size.
Each santon-maker has, as a point of fact, created some types by taking inspiration from folklore and tradition, like the shepherd proffering the lamb, reminding us to share, and the woman with the black hen, whose bouillon was recommended for newborns.
Thus, we find amongst these figures all the trades and professions of the last century ; in all, about fifty of them, with their such evocative names !
All these figures take their place around the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the three wise men, whom we only put in place on January 6.
The santon is a purely Provençal product that totally integrates into the "calendale" traditions. Naive and comical, familiar but dignified, these little figurines have for a long time delighted the children of Provence before intriguing, then melting the hearts of adults.
Pierre Graille's costumed santons
The santons from Magali of Aubagne
The santons of the Crémade in Saumane
Santon-maker and collection of santons
Old costumed santons
Santons of Provence, the pétanque game and the fishmonger
Santons of Provence, focaccia vendor