Objects in focus
Winter wonderlands

Snow might not have arrived at the Museum yet, but our curators have been on the search for all things wintery in the collection. Scroll down for a dozen delightful objects this December.

Sleigh bells

18th-century pipe stand decorated with a winter scene from Delft in the Netherlands.

This intricately decorated sledge paints a charming scene of life in Delft, Holland, in the early-18th century, daintily adorned with people ice skating against a wintry backdrop of leaf-bare trees and snow-dusted buildings.

The ornament itself has been crafted from tin-glazed earthenware – a traditional product of Delft since the 17th century – also known as Dutch Delftware, and was probably originally intended as a pipe stand.

Snowsuit

Child’s all-in-one made of caribou hide. Igloolik, Nanavut, northern Canada, 1986.

This child’s snowsuit is designed to withstand the extreme climate of Igloolik Island (located in the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut), where temperatures can drop well below -30°C. Made from caribou (reindeer) hide, snowsuits like this one are extremely durable and extraordinarily warm, keeping the wearer insulated (and particularly adorable)!

Skating couple

Glazed porcelain figurine of an ice-skating couple. Made in Ludwigsburg, c. 1765–1770.

This vibrant couple formed one of four groups modelled by sculptor and medallist JohannAdam Bauer (1743–1780) – each representing a season. This one represents winter – the ‘Schlittschuhläufer Paar’ (or skating couple), are shown fixing blades with leather straps and buckles to their shoes to form ice-skates. They were designed to be part of the decoration placed at the centre of a dessert table.

The Swimming Reindeer

Carved mammoth tusk depicting ‘The Swimming Reindeer’. Made in Europe 13,500 years ago.

This sculpture shows a larger male reindeer following a smaller female. Both animals have antlers indicating the depiction must be an autumn-winter scene. With their heads back, noses up and legs stretched out, the reindeer appear to be swimming, as they do when on migration to their winter mating grounds. At the end of the last Ice Age, human hunters followed the reindeer on which they depended for food and materials. These journeys probably generated stories that might have been as magical as those of flying reindeer in modern times.

The Winter Solstice in ancient Greece

Terracotta group of Poseidon or perhaps Zeus driving a four-horse chariot. Made in Puglia, Italy c. 300 BC–200 BC.

Solstice (from the Latin ‘sol’, or sun) celebrations honour the sun. The winter solstice and shortest day falls in December for the northern hemisphere. Ancient Greek calendars varied from city to city, but in some calendars, a month around the time of the winter solstice was named after Poseidon (god of the sea in Greek mythology). This is despite the fact that Greeks were least likely to sail during these winter months as celebrations would take place! Poseidon is seen here driving a four-horse chariot.

Prints in the snow

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), No 16 Kambara yoru no yuki (Night snow at Kambara). Japan, around 1833–1834.

This enchanting woodblock print is part of a series by Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige – the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido. The series was based on his travels along the Tokaido road and was published in the early 1830s. The road was one of the most important transport routes on the east coast of Japan during the Edo period (1603–1868). This night-time scene depicts the snowbound station of Kambara, but you may recognise this artwork already – it featured as the cover for rock band Weezer’s 1996 album Pinkerton!

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights

Bronze Hanukkah lamp made in the 18th century.

This year, Hanukkah (the Jewish Festival of Lights), took place between 2–10 December. Over the eight days of Hanukkah, a candle is lit in a special menorah (candelabra) called a ‘hanukkiyah’ each night. This example was probably made in the 18th century, and shows the eight candle holders – traditionally lit from left to right. You can see two menorahs on display at the Museum – located in Room 46.

The snowman

Horace Devitt Welsh (1888–1942), Snowman. Etching on paper, 1922.

What’s winter without a snowman? The above print was made by American printmaker Horace Devitt Welsh and shows two young children looking up at an impressively hefty snowman, wearing a top hat and with a pipe strategically placed in his mouth.

A snowy Mount Kailash

Painting of Śiva and Pārvatī on Mount Kailasa. India, Rajasthan School, c. 1800.

Made around 1800, this vibrant painting depicts the Hindu god Shiva with his wife, the goddess Parvati. They sit at the summit of snow-covered Mount Kailash, their Himalayan abode. Shiva is shown sitting on a tiger skin, with a cobra round his neck. They are accompanied by their animal mounts or vahanas, a bull and a tiger. Mount Kailash is also believed to be the home of the Buddha Chakrasamvara. Thousands of Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims visit the mountain every year, circling around it by foot.

Polar bears and the Three Kings

Medal designed by Fritz Christ of figures in the snow. Germany, around 1906.

Pictured above is a medal designed by German sculptor and medallist Fritz Christ, made in 1906. On one side, a woman can be seen holding a snowball while leaning over a fully-dressed snowman on skis, holding an ice hockey stick and a hand warmer. On the reverse, a female figure is depicted seated on a polar bear (perhaps not a recommended mode of winter transport)!

Below is a coin also from Cologne, Germany, dating to around 1516. The coin in the image is a thaler (a German silver coin), and bears an image of the biblical Three kings – or Three Wise Men – who visited Jesus after his birth, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Cologne cathedral holds the relics of the Three Kings, transferred there in the Middle Ages, and became a major pilgrimage centre, with the Kings becoming patron saints of the city.

Coin depicting the biblical Three kings, or Three Wise Men. Germany, around 1516.

 

The Museum makes for a great day out over the festive period – you can check out what’s on here, and our Christmas opening hours here.