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Les Femmes et la Ville : histoire des femmes à Marseille des origines à nos jours

Les Femmes et Marseille

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Les Santonnières

The making of santons (crib figures) originated in the 19th century and, since it was always a family affair, it gave Marseillaise women an opportunity to excel. The first santon makers identified by name in the 19th century, when the manufacture of clay crib figurines was first known, were craftsmen working in their spare time to make a little extra money. From the beginning, women were also produced santons as this was considered essentially as a domestic task. Indeed, the first person said to have made santons in Provence was in fact Madeleine of Odorico, who, as Sister Madeleine of Jesus Mary (1597-1685) was a member of the Carmelite Convent in Avignon.

In the 19th century, we know of Marie Simon who worked with her husband Antoine (1803-1857) and continued after his death. Marie Bosco (1856-1941), wife of a locksmith who died in 1903, took up her husband's business, continuing to make and sell santons until shortly before her death. The Guégan family of santonniers, the oldest family to participate in the Marseilles fair, it was the women who created the dynasty. Pierre Pagano (1879-1963), originally a stationer, sold santons at the Marseilles fair and had a shop at Pont-de-L'Etoile. He worked with his wife Marie-Louise and three daughters, two of whom later married santonniers: Messrs Chaumeries and Malherbes. Marie-Rose Pagano was reputed to have invented the figure called Femme à l'aïoli (Woman making Aioli).

Augustine Monin (1850-1928) was the widow of Clement Roux, a journalist who died in 1893. As the Widow Roux, she created new santons and won first prize in the First Santonnier Competition organized by the Association Félibréenne des Bons Provençaux in 1898. Marie Monin (1858-1931), Augustine's younger sister, worked with her husband Joseph Guichard, a cooper. Widowed around 1916, she continued to make santons for many years. The third Monin sister also married a santonnier, Etienne Martel who was an iron merchant.

The santonnières of later generations did not just inherit a domestic tradition; they sometimes took courses in Fine Arts. For example, the Gastline soeurs*, creators of ceramic santons, exhibited their works in art galleries together with those of Berthe Samat. When the Abbé Sumien, in the early 20th century, created « dressed santons » for churches, many women followed suit, adapting the cribs to suit ordinary houses. Although little is known of Sumien's successor, Marthe Barbaro, Emilia Puccinelli-Meinnier (Toulon 1905- Marseille 1974) was a pupil of the School of Fine Arts.

Most santonnières sold their santons at the Christmas fairs. The profession, for many years a sideline, was finally recognized after World War II. Around 1940, the word « santonnier » appeared in administrative certificates, though « santon » was first included in the Larousse Dictionary in 1912. It is thanks to the growing creativity of women santon-makers over the last two hundred years that this typically Marseillais craft has flourished, though often it was in the name of their husbands and sons.


Catherine Marand-Fouquet


Refs.: Bertrand R. « Quand des femmes créent des santons », Marseillaises, les femmes et la ville, Knibiehler et al, Coté Femmes, 1993 ; « Ce petit peuple d'argile. La foire aux santons du xix siècle », Marseille, n°179.