Recently visited exhibitions have been less than full of Christmas cheer. Meanwhile, Christmas offers such an opportunity for the dissemination of beautiful images in card form that I thought it a quite suitable subject for a festive blog post…
To start with the religious, which is only proper: a detail of Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration in the Uffizi teems with characters and gleams richly with gold, while a Virgin and Child Tondo by Botticelli at the National Gallery is in contrast measured, stately, elegant – and round (thus standing out on the mantelpiece).
From the secular world – for a ‘Season’s Greetings’ perhaps – the Ashmolean and Fitzwilliam Museums’ Japanese prints portray charming snowy panoramas of fairytale figures and ice-clad pagodas.
Also at the Ashmolean, I discovered, is a 1794 etching entitled ‘Christmas Gambols, Or a Kiss Under the Mistletoe’- if not already a Christmas card it should be as it carries a very sensible warning:
Bridget the Cook on Christmas Day,
When all was Mirth & Jollity,
Was rudely kissed, by Saucy Joe,
And that beneath the Mistletoe.
But she returned it with the Ladle,
And laid about, when he was Addle,
For Maids are not to be thus taken,
And all their Virgin Honor shaken.
Another, less lewd, depiction of winter entertainments past is Gesina Terborch’s Ice Scene (c.1658) at the Courtauld, in which a plumed horse pulls a striped sleigh, its carriage shaped like a dragon.
The Courtauld also offers, from its collection of fashion plates, images of children masquerading as Christmas trees, Christmas puddings and clumps of mistletoe. I simply could not resist including these; the 1920s child must have dreaded fancy dress parties.
But best of all, for childish Christmas cheer, are these illustrations recently sold at Sotheby’s. Until I am able to buy the originals could these please be turned into cards?