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Saturnalian Santa

OK, so see the icon I am using for this post? I made it probably more than ten years ago now from this image, which I had found while Googling for hoary, pagan-looking Victorian Santas:

Victorian Santa 2.jpg

I absolutely fell in love with it - the way he is rising up from the feast, the very personification of all the merriment and good cheer, with his holly-bough garland and hearty blessings. I could see from the shaded oval behind him that it must be cropped from a larger image, but no amount of Googling likely search terms brought anything larger up.

Until this year, when, having occasion to use it once again, it occurred to me that Google reverse image search now exists. So I popped in the image I had, and bingo! Within a few seconds I had learnt that it came from the Illustrated London News of 1847, had been drawn by one Kenny Meadows, and furthermore could be purchased from eBay for a princely £12.95. Well! I wasn't going to pass that up, so I ordered it straight away, had it delivered to my Dad's, and opened it yesterday when I arrived as an early Christmas present to myself.

Here is the full image in all its crisp 170-year-old glory:

2017-12-24 12.37.45 cropped.jpg

You may of course click to embiggen, or enjoy these closer shots of some of the details:

2017-12-24 12.38.23.jpg

2017-12-24 12.38.05.jpg

I of course love it all the more now. The presiding spirit is still very much the perfect syncretism of ancient and modern mid-winter symbols which I had originally looked for: as much Saturn as he is Santa; still recognisably the hooded traveller through winter forests but perfectly welcome at a Victorian feast. I can even see now that he has firelight blazing up behind him and what seem to be children's toys embedded in his beard, almost like a Green Man's leaves.

But there is so much more going on here that I couldn't see at all or could barely make out properly before: the harried fellow in the bottom-middle, the elegant couples swirling behind him, the cards, the blind man's bluff, the raised glasses, the cheerful faces. It was published, of course, a mere four years after Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and I think we are definitely seeing something of his Ghost Of Christmas Present here. Clement Clarke Moore's right jolly old elf is probably somehere in its parentage too. But it is something of its own which I am very happy to have my very own copy of after all these years.

I think I will frame it when I get home and look for a nice place on the wall to hang it. I should update the icon too, now that I have a better-quality image. But for now it's enough to share and gaze upon. I hope you like it too!

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 24th, 2017 07:48 pm (UTC)
That is pretty awesome - and a very different figure from the Coca-Cola purveyor of later times.
Dec. 24th, 2017 08:10 pm (UTC)
Yes, indeed - a much wilder beast! I'm pretty sure this one views Coke only as a mixer, and even then only in circumstances of desperation.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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