The little world of Jean-Marie Combe

Designed like miniature stage sets, baroque and magical, each wardrobe crib is delicately crafted in the tradition of the 17th-century ornamentalists, using cardboard and papier mâché, glue made from rabbit skin, fish and bone, and natural pigments. Embellished with gold or silver leaf, patinated in the old style or painted like the traditional wardrobes of Uzès, Jean-Marie’s cribs are worlds in miniature. Everything is handmade, including the delicate ironwork. The patina is made using the « terre pourrie » technique (a mixture of white terracotta and greenish moss applied to lacquer), creating the impression of dust on the gold leaf to give it the more subdued charm we associate with age. The landscapes and still lifes are painted in the style of 17th and 18th-century Italy or Provence, the holy figures handcrafted by specialists of the genre.

In all honesty, « wardrobe cribs » are simply a fabrication, an invention by Jean-Marie Combe. That said, they fit in superbly with the old Provencal tradition of staging nativity scenes in objects: broken jugs, shrines, hens’ or ostriches’ eggs. Created in six stages, each wardrobe is a painstaking creation, a unique artefact in which the holy figures come to life in a setting subtly constructed of thyme, cork, sand, flock (powdered velvet) and pebbles. All the well-known Provencal characters are present: the angel Boufareo blowing his trumpet, the old couple under a big red umbrella, the tambourine player, the Arlésienne, the farandole dancers, the woman with a pumpkin or lantern, Pistachié (a farmhand), the farmer’s wife, the miller... all imaginatively rendered by the painter. 

Jean-Marie Combe, Provencal painter, ornamentalist and miniaturist, lives and works in the countryside at Giono near Nyons in the Drôme. Born in 1945 to a family from Carpenters, he soon discovered his vocation as a painter. Attracted by the style and precision of the Baroque landscape artists, he quickly absorbed the pictorial art of 17th and 18thcentury Italy, especially Tuscany, loving the quality of its light. He became interested in painted furniture, a genre highly developed in Italy, and so the landscape painter became an ornamentalist. But his greatest enthusiasm is for creating miniatures. If a furniture miniature did not exist, he created it. And so, gradually, the wardrobe crib was born. And in recent years, as a result of exhibitions and articles, it has taken the spirit of Provence and the light of Tuscany to all four corners of the world. 

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