History of Santos Dolls

European Beginnings

The Santos dolls take their name from the Spanish word for Saint, and are also known as Santons (French) and Santibelli (Italian). The Santos that started the genre of dolls we currently represent (primarily Spanish Colonial and Western European style), were originally started as copies of 17th century carvings by priests. Originally, Santos were created for use as in-home altars.  They were needed in small villages that did not have a priest, as well as for when it was not possible to travel to church, such as during times of war.  Their development flourished in Europe  in the 1700's and 1800's, primarily due to these wars.

Santos dolls are closely related to the Crèche figures, which were implemented in Italy by St Francis of Assisi, during the 13th century. However, the Crèche are primarily associated with Italian and French nativity and crib scenes.  Crèche scenes are still elaborately displayed throughout Italy and in parts of France, most notably in Provence.

Discovery of the New World


European Santos dolls were also brought to the Latin Americas during the Colonial age of Spain's settling of The New World.  The dolls were used to aid in the of conversion of the Native Americans and Central American Indians to Catholicism. Many of these original dolls, along with the art that inspired them, were destroyed while trying to settle the West.  Therefore, antiques in good shape are rare and very expensive. It is not uncommon to see an antique Santos bring 4 and 5 digit figures.  In more recent years, fine and folk art has emerged to replace these dolls.  Santos dolls are designed and created by "Santeros" or "Santonniers" (loosely 'saint maker'). As the art form has progressed, the Santos has become recognized as a true artistic doll.  Some dolls are rustic carvings, while others have magnificent details.

Reproductions

Santos, particularly the females, exhibit a most loving expression that is also complex and thoughtful. Their shape is often rustic in nature, yet with delicate details.  They are sometimes painted in rich colors with detailed eyes.  Antique dolls frequently have glass eyes, while reproductions (as well as some antique Santos) most commonly have painted eyes.  The dolls emulate the image of Christ, The Virgin Mary, Patron Saints, as well as other notable figures in biblical history.

Our reproduction Santos dolls are an intriguing mix of 17th and 18th century religious history and a modern doll collection. Please look around our growing portfolio to see the brilliant details that have been hand carved and hand painted on each doll. Each doll in our collection possesses certain traits that make her beautiful in her own individual way. Some dolls are basic and rustic, and others are refined and dainty.  Each doll shares the same beauty.

 


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