The 12 days of gifmas

Published 25 December 2016

Merry Christmas, art-lovers! This morning we bring you some light entertainment from the RA Collection – which, it turns out, is chock-a-block with pipers piping, french hens and maids a-milking. We’ve made just a few festive alterations…

    • On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree…

      It’s unfortunate that this one comes first in the song, as admittedly there is a distinct lack of partridge in the RA Collection. Thank goodness for the pear tree. For the first day of Christmas we have lovingly animated this beautiful oil painting, An Orchard in the Spring by Mark Fisher RA, the artists “diploma work” (the work each Royal Academician donates to the RA on being elected) given in 1920. We can only hope that the artist would appreciate our addition of some festive fowl.

      Mark Fisher RA, An Orchard in the Spring

      Mark Fisher RA, An Orchard in the Spring, c. 1920.

      Diploma Work given by Mark Fisher RA, accepted 1920..

      Oil on canvas. 457 x 612 mm. Photo: R.A./John Hammond © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

    • On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me, two turtle doves…

      A happy surprise to us too: there are actually turtle doves in our collection. A young woman watching a pair of turtle doves was engraved by François de Poilly the younger, after a painting by the French artist Jacques-François Courtin. Turtle doves have historically been used as symbols of true and enduring love, due to the fact that they typically mate for life.

      François de Poilly, the younger, A young woman watching a pair of turtle doves

      François de Poilly, the younger, A young woman watching a pair of turtle doves, ca. 1715-20.

      After Jacques François Courti. Published by François de Poilly, the younger and Jean Baptiste de Poilly.

      Etching and engraving. 216 x 175 mm. Photo: R.A. © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

    • On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me, three French hens…

      First published in One Hundred Moral Fables in 1570, this woodcut is by Giovanni Mario Verizzotti, a 16th-century Italian priest, humanist and scholar – and close friend and secretary of Titian. It’s called The Hen and the Swallow; the other two hens have presumably just wandered off frame, and we have taken some artistic liberties switching the remaining hen’s nationality from Italian to French. De rien.

      Giovanni Mario Verdizotti, The Hen and the Swallow

      Giovanni Mario Verdizotti, The Hen and the Swallow.

      Engraved by Giovanni Mario Verdizotti, published by Giordano Ziletti. From: Giovanni Mario Verdizotti, ‘Cento Favole Morale…’, Venetia, app. Giordano Ziletti, 1570, p. 134.

      Woodcut engraving. 190 x 145 mm. Photo: R.A. © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

    • On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, four calling birds…

      The ambigious fourth gift has, at various points in history, been replaced by “colly birds” (blackbirds) or canary birds, but it’s safe to say we’re talking about songbirds of some description. Here – adding just a few extra birds added to make up the numbers – we’ve used Walter Crane’s The Prince and the Little Green Bird illustration from the fairy tale Princess Belle-Etoile. Pleasingly, the prince also appears to be wearing some sort of Santa suit.

      After Walter Crane, Prince Cheri and the Little Green Bird

      After Walter Crane, Prince Cheri and the Little Green Bird.

      Printed by Edmund Evans, published by George Routledge and Sons. From: Walter Crane, ‘Aladdin’s Picture Book’, London [1884?], ‘Princess Belle-Etoile’.

      Wood-engraving. 227 x 196 mm. Photo: R.A. © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

    • On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, five gold rings…

      There is some dispute as to what this line – clearly the most enjoyable one to sing – means. While the obvious interpretation is jewellery, it’s been suggested that the reference is actually to the gold bands around a pheasant’s neck. Anyway, our gold rings are neither of those, but a much more creative interpretation of a chromatic wheel, employed to help art students understand the relationships between colours.

      Michel Eugène Chevreul, Chromatic circle divided into 72 equal sections

      Michel Eugène Chevreul, Chromatic circle divided into 72 equal sections.

      Engraved by René-Henri Digeon, printed by René-Henri Digeon. From: Michel-Eugène Chevreul, ‘Exposé d‘un moyen de définir et de nommer les couleurs…’ Atlas. - Paris, 1861 (fig. 5).

      Steel-engraving printed in colours. 230 mm. Photo: R.A. © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

    • On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, six geese a-laying…

      John Halphead Smith painted this as part of a series of 12 watercolours depicting geese and ducks for use in a book. Sadly, said ornithological book was never published, although Halphead Smith’s ambiguity about what he’d actually painted may not have helped – the title of this work is Probably an Ashy-headed Goose. Close enough for gifmas.

      John Halphead Smith, A goose, probably an Ashy-headed Goose, in profile

      John Halphead Smith, A goose, probably an Ashy-headed Goose, in profile, 1839.

      Bequeathed by Gilbert Bakewell Stretton, 1949.

      Watercolour on white wove paper. 28.3 x 38 cm. Photo: R.A./John Hammond © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

    • On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me, seven swans a-swimming…

      Since 1984, the American bank PNC has released an annual “Christmas Price Index”, calculating how much it would cost to send your true love all twelve gifts year-on-year. In 2016, it’s the swans that’ll set you back the most, taking up $13,125 (£10,642) of the $156,507.88 (£126,905) total cost. The index also notes that swans have been the most unpredictable cost in the song, with a $10,000 (£8,108) difference between their highest and lowest price tags. Alfred Parsons’s chalk study of swans certainly has nothing to do with any of this, but we trust he’d enjoy seeing his sketches come alive for gifmas, nonetheless.

      Alfred Parsons RA, Study of swans

      Alfred Parsons RA, Study of swans, 1955.

      Given by Dr. Bryan N. Brooke.

      Black chalk on laid paper. 227 x 180 mm. Photo: R.A. © Copyright protected.

    • On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eight maids a-milking…

      This pretty rural scene might be missing a few maids, but it is an accurate depiction of 19th-century Milking Time in the Meadows. Painted by Thomas Sidney Cooper RA, this work was also given as a “diploma work” upon the artist’s election to the Royal Academy.

      Another theory about the song’s provenance holds that it was once used by children as a memory game, challenging players to sing their way through the song without forgetting lines or stumbling over the alliterative sections.

      Thomas Sidney Cooper RA, Milking Time in the Meadows

      Thomas Sidney Cooper RA, Milking Time in the Meadows, 1869.

      Diploma Work given by Thomas Sidney Cooper, R.A., accepted 1869.

      Oil on canvas. 597 x 908 mm. Photo: R.A./John Hammond © Copyright protected.

    • On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, nine ladies dancing…

      As the later gifts become increasingly hard to purchase, it’s been suggested that the song celebrates a wedding at which the “true love” has arranged for, among other things, dancing, leaping and piping. To illustrate that first activity, we’ve animated Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering motion photography series, bringing to life the images he described as “Dancing (fancy)”.

      Eadweard Muybridge, Dancing (fancy)

      Eadweard Muybridge, Dancing (fancy), 1872-1885.

      Printed by Photogravure Company of New York University of Pennsylvania. From: ‘Animal Locomotion. An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movement 1872-1885’. Purchased from Eadweard Muybridge, 1891.

      Collotype on white wove paper. 184 x 417 mm. Photo: R.A./John Hammond © Copyright protected.

    • On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, ten lords a-leaping…

      In the 1990s, it was suggested that the 12 Days of Christmas was written as a secretive way for children to memorise Catholic catechism, at a time when followers of their religion were being persecuted in England. In this interpretation, those ten leaping lords are the ten commandments. However, this has been disputed on several grounds; since Protestantism and Catholicism share a belief in ten commandments, four gospels and so on, these wouldn’t need to be taught in code. Just one lord leaps in this Venetian engraving, but you get the idea.

      Unsigned, Four small compositions on a single plate, with costumes of Venetian men

      Unsigned, Four small compositions on a single plate, with costumes of Venetian men.

      Engraved by Unsigned, published by Giacomo Franco. From: Giacomo Franco, ‘Habiti d‘huomeni et donne venetiane: con la processione della Ser.ma Signoria et altri particolari cioè. Trionfi feste et cerimonie publiche della nobilissima città di Venetia’, - Venezia : G. Franco, 1610. [Pl.10].

      Engraving. 230 x 165 mm. Photo: R.A. © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

    • On the 11th day of Christmas my true love sent to me, 11 pipers piping…

      For the penultimate Christmas gift, we’ve chosen Flemish painter Jacob Jordaens’s depiction of Pan playing the flute. Another Jordaens work, As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young, gets slightly closer to the 11 pipers, employing three meanings of the word: the title refers to a proverb, warning that children follow the examples they are shown, while the painting illustrates this with a man teaching a boy to smoke a pipe while a bagpiper plays.

      After Jacob Jordaens, Pan playing the Flute

      After Jacob Jordaens, Pan playing the Flute.

      Engraved by Schelte à Bolswert. Published by Abraham Blooteling, c. 1680?.

      Engraving. 313 x 416 mm. Photo: R.A. © Royal Academy of Arts, London..

    • On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me, 12 drummers drumming…

      For the 12th day of gifmas, please welcome the revolutionary spirit of France, banging her drum in La Révolution from 1896. The 12 Days of Christmas is thought to be French in origin, so Val Prinsep’s work makes a fitting finale.

      Val Prinsep RA, La Révolution

      Val Prinsep RA, La Révolution, 1896.

      Diploma Work given by Val Prinsep, R.A., accepted 1896..

      Oil on canvas. 1634 x 1122 x 25 mm. Photo: R.A./John Hammond © Copyright protected.

  • Merry Christmas from everyone at the Royal Academy

    Eric Ravilious, December Snow.

    Printed by Robert Maclehose and Co. Ltd. From: H.J. Massingham (ed.), ‘The writings of Gilbert White of Selborne, London’, 1938 (vol.I, p.[284]).

    Wood-engraving. 70 x 102 mm. Photo: R.A. © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Comments

comments powered by Disqus