Santons Marcel Carbonel 


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Making the crib

Crèche diorama de Marcel Carbonel

3 main parts

The main subject: the Stable & the Holy Family

The landscape: the foreground (the nativity and the little people carrying offerings), and the background (small mountains & streams, villages, sheep-pen & paths)

Since the time of the earliest cribs of Marseilles, the nativity is often placed on the left or on the right of the composition in order to leave a large area for the landscape and to follow the progress of the little people walking on towards the stable clearly.

Background: it finishes and outlines the crib (a sky painted on a canvas, a painting representing a perspective)

Size of the characters and the perspective

the installation

The time and the location: he crib is (re) built each year. The characters and the accessories are removed from their boxes. At the beginning of December, or even before, one moves a chest of drawers here, a table there, in order to install the small family-made work of art in which everyone takes part. It will be taken apart just before Candlemas.

The most current size ranges from 7 to 9 cm for the foreground, but many sizes exist and this is what determines the proportion of your crib... relative to the space you have available. The smaller figures are placed in the background in order to heighten the effect of perspective and the decoration is then suitably adapted.

In this example, the shallow depth (approximately 1.20 m) is compensated by a rapid decrease of the size of the figures and accessories. The eye is more lenient than pure geometry!

Light: showing your crib at its best is subject to the subtlety of its lighting. It will benefit from a soft surrounding light but one that will not leave any of the details in the shadows; the nativity itself can be lit by a small lamp placed in the stable or even the cave.

Background: paintings, engraving, illustration, and photographs


The initial pleasure one feels in the making of the crib is in the collection of materials and various elements that will enrich it. This search can begin months in advance... and even become an obsession!

Layers of wood,reinforced cardboard, blocks of polystyrene, crib paper: to obtain the different levels and setbacks of the unit. These compensate for the lack of depth through a staircase-shaped structure. The background of the crib can end with small mountains or rock cliffs on which the smallest elements of the decoration (mills, small trees) are perched.

Cork: more difficult to find, unless living in an area where the cork oak grows. This traditional material enhanced with walnut stain and clear gouaches imitates magnificently the rock of Provençal structures.

Branches, twigs, and lichen: will constitute the plant elements of the crib. They can be used "naturally" or enhanced with added colours.

Pebbles, stones, sand: nature is generous in patinated elements and other natural ochres that will act as rocks and paths for your crib, flat stones for the roofs of houses.

Additional prefabricated plant life: they have less charm (the charm of using one's hands, of course) but one can find very beautiful accessories among suppliers to model makers.

NOTA : The Marcel Carbonel Workshops do not sell any of the materials described in this page