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Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.
18 May 2017
Dr Great Art Podcast Episode 5: Santa Claus's Look!
Dec 12, 2016
Christmas time! A podcast about how Santa Claus LOOKS --- the history
of his visual appearance. St. Nicholas, Thomas Nast, Fred Mizen, myths
like Coca-Cola, Luther, the Orthodox Santa, "Twas the night before
Christmas," and more including the Swiss Samichlaus and Schmutzli!
Here is the script (NOT a transcript as I change elements while recording)-
Art Podcast Five
Hi this is
Mark Staff Brandl, with the fifth "Dr (Great) Art" brief podcast. I
hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.
because it is Christmas time, I want to do a short podcast about how Santa
Claus LOOKS --- the history of his visual appearance.
my European listeners --- a BIG surprise: No matter what is repeated, even by
so-called experts on TV, it has almost NOTHING to do with Coca-Cola! Yes, they
use him, and do some of the most visually beautiful TV ads at Christmas, and
have done ads since the 1920s.
The first Santa ads were directly based on the drawings of political
cartoonist Thomas Nast, who we will get to soon. In 1930, artist Fred Mizen
painted a department-store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke, and that
lead to all the future ads. This was the more modern version, but that image of
Santa had long appeared overall and elsewhere in the US --- Mizen was a great
Furthermore, even though it's often said that Santa wears a
red coat because red is the color of Coca-Cola, Santa appears in a red coat
because he is a version of St. Nicholas, who was a bishop, originally painted
in a variety of clothing colors, but finally in those of a cardinal, oddly
enough. Thus scarlet, or red.
Santa Claus, also
known as Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, the
Weihnachtsmann, or simply Santa, is of course the legendary figure of Western
culture who is said to bring gifts to the homes of well-behaved children on
Christmas Eve (24 December) and the early morning hours of Christmas Day (25
December), in MOST cultures, but not ALL (you'll hear more about that in the
The modern Santa
Claus grew out of traditions surrounding the historical Saint Nicholas, a
fourth-century Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra, as I said.
Plus in the mix is the
British Father Christmas, the Dutch Sinterklaas, and the holidays of Twelfth
Night and Epiphany, the Three Kings (the gift-giving Magi of the Bible) and
Befana, --- who in Italy is the legendary old woman who delivers gifts to
children on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5). Santa Claus also absorbed
elements of the Swedish Santa Claus (so close to Nast's drawings.)
The German figure of
the Christkind, a sort of fairytale version of the Christ Child --- was created
by Luther to be an attempt to eliminate the reverence for Santa Claus ---
uptight guy! Especially since he is responsible for bringing the heathen
Christmas Tree back into the holidays! I was raised a Lutheran and am a
Christian and love the idea of Santa in any form. It could be worse: Puritans
banned the holiday entirely in 1647, as Hitler and the Nazis sought to do
repeatedly after 1933, settling for progressively taking all Jesus and God
references out of it slowly but surely, turning them into racist, Hitler and
Back to positive! Santa Claus is usually drawn as a chubby, cheerful,
white-bearded man, with spectacles — wearing a red coat with white fur collar
and cuffs, white fur-cuffed red trousers, who carries a bag full of gifts for
children. This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th
century due to the significant influence of the 1823 poem "A Visit From
St. Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore --- ( You know "Twas the night before
Christmas, when all through the house..." etc.) and most of all the
influence of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast.
Thomas Nast (1840 –1902) was a German-born American caricaturist
and editorial cartoonist the "Father of the American Cartoon." He
created the political symbol of the elephant (Royal animal) for the Republican
Party and popularized the donkey (working animal) for the Democrats. He also
solidified and popularized the image of Uncle Sam, the female version of him
named Columbia, and more.
For Nast, and the poem mentioned, Santa was a small elf-like
person. This changed as living humans began to disguise themselves as Santa for
various functions --- his "Official Helpers" as my mom Ruth told me
when I asked, a little too perceptive, why there were so many Santa Clauses
American and other non-Swiss listeners, the Swiss version, Samichlaus, is
rather different. He is not
exactly a jolly good fellow. He is not mean spirited either, but a kind
of disciplinary figure originally!
Every year on December 6, NOT 25th, kids get visited by him and his assistant "Schmutzli". They emerge from their hidden
cottage in the woods, not on a sleigh of flying reindeer, butrather shuffling through the snow with a
These days, whether they have been naughty or nice, children
are left with a bag full of walnuts, peanuts, chocolates, tangerines and ginger
BUT in the past, the companion known as Schmutzli (dirty or
raggedy perhaps) in the German part of the country and Père Fouettard (from
"whip") in French, who carries a broom of twigs, would theoretically
give out punishment to children whose behaviour throughout the year had been
Over the years though, and despite retaining his foreboding
appearance, Schmutzli has evolved into a more benign figure.
The Orthodox Santa also bears mentioning. Christmas is
celebrated for three consecutive days, starting with Christmas Day, which is
usually later than ours, January 7th, as their day is based on the Julian
calendar that pre-dates the Gregorian calendar, (and is usually more closely
tied to the Jewish dates). For many Orthodox Christian kids such as Russians
January 7th or the New Year celebrations, are the big deal!
This is when 'Grandfather Frost' (known in Russian as 'Ded
Moroz' or Дед Мороз) brings presents to children. He is always accompanied by
his Grandaughter (Snegurochka).
brings you gifts, which symbolizes the great, generally undeserved gifts we get
from the Higher Being in life, I hope he or she or it blesses you! Merry
Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Io Saturnalia, Happy Festivus, Happy Yule/Winter Solstice, and the
Buddhist greeting: May all sentient beings know the peace and compassion taught
by both the Buddha and Jesus.
That was "Dr (Great) Art" podcast number 5. If you wish to
hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and
art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art
historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und
viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally
and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of
art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety
of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens
and even in my painting-installations.