While most of us shudder at the mention of a snake, let's remember that in ancient times the snake was associated with some positive attributes. In fact, the snake seems to have been associated with anything and everything. Fertility, wisdom, sin, envy, deceit...the list goes on and on. In particular, snakes were associated with healing--remember that a snake sheds its skin in a 'rebirth' of sorts. On multiple occasions in the past few years, I have noticed lone examples of this classical figure, and the snake in his hand should provide a clue to his identity.
Not the most handsome of figures, I will admit! Because of the snake, the figure is often thought to be Aesculapius, the Roman god of medicine. Aesculapius is associated with healing, so this is not too big a stretch of faith.....except that this figure is definitely NOT Aesculapius.
So let's go back to the drawing board and look at our man-with-snake yet again. Notice he has a fire at his feet, and therein lies the best clue to his identity. This figure symbolizes winter. Do you think this is too big a stretch of the imagination on my part? Believe it or not, I am correct! Look at the set of figures symbolizing the Four Seasons below. They are titled. Yay!---it makes life so much easier when we know who is who. And Winter is indeed the ugly man with a snake!
Now that our mystery man has been identified, take a moment to ponder how lovely this set of Seasons is. Although they are far from common, I have seen pearlware examples decorated both with enamel colors as above, and with underglaze colors, as below.
The figures in this posting are tall--a good 9 to 10 inches. Strangely, I have noted two pearlware musicians on similar tall plinth bases. (Staffordshire Figures 1780-1840, Vol. 1, 26.184 and 26.185). As to why Winter is holding a snake..this remains one of life's mysteries
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