Posts Tagged ‘national personification’

National Personification Month: The Kiwi

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

The people of New Zealand are often referred to by the name of their national bird – the kiwi.

The symbol dates back to the late 19th century, but came into general use during the First World War.  The bird appears in various coat of arms and logos throughout the country.

Appropriately, the kiwi is also the symbol of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.  Appropriate, that is, until you learn that the kiwi is a flightless bird.

What is the kiwi?  It is a nocturnal, flightless endangered bird with a keen sense of smell.  Kind of an odd collection of characteristics to represent a nation, but who are we to judge?

National Personification – John Bull

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

It’s National Personification month on the PhLog, and today’s entry is about the invented character who represents Britain (and no, we’re not talking about the Queen).

There are many fictional figures associated with the UK.  There’s the Lion of Albion, a bulldog, and of course the monarch, whoever he or she happens to be at a given time.

But it’s the figure of John Bull that’s had the longest run.  First created by Scottish mathematician and physicist John Arbuthnot in 1712 as a character in an extended allegory, John Bull was a commonplace no-nonsense portly fellow intended to symbolize England.  He had a sister Peg, who was a stand-in for Scotland, and was friends with Nicholas Frog (Holland) who was his ally against Louis Baboon (France – aka Louis XIV of Bourbon).

Early images of John Bull presented him as an actual bull, expressing British virility and stubbornness, and possibly a reference to rosbif (“roast beef”) the derogatory French nickname for the English.  But this didn’t last very long.  Maybe because it was pretty creepy to draw a bull in waistcoat and top hat.

The Napoleonic era began John Bull’s first great era in caricature.  At this stage John Bull was a little stupid and overwhelmed with various tribulations.

But he did end up with Napoleon’s head on a fork.

In the 19th century, cartoonists such as John Tenniel (the creator of the iconic illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) solidified the image of John Bull as a jovial and honest figure in a waistcoat with a bulldog at heel.  Although there was a period in the early 20th century when he got a little pompous and the common man was represented by Tommy Atkins instead.

Unlike the US’s Uncle Sam, John Bull is not a figure of authority, but just a common-sense country fellow who likes the quiet life.  He’s probably a nice guy to have a beer with, and he’ll unhesitatingly and fully stand up for his friends in a fight although he wouldn’t ever start one.

National Birds

Friday, July 20th, 2012

It’s National Personification Month here on the PhLog, and here’s a slightly off topic entry: birds and nations.

The bald eagle is an official symbol of the US (although it would have been the turkey if Benjamin Franklin had his way) but we’re not the only country to have a bird as a mascot.

While Marianne is the official repetitive of the French state, the Gallic rooster (coq gaulois) is the unofficial symbol of the French nation.

It goes back to the Middle Ages when someone thought of a pun, or misheard someone, and realized that Gallus, the Latin name for an inhabitant of the region we now call France, was the same word as gallus, or rooster.  The French monarchy tied the image of the rooster to stories from the Bible and thus it became a symbol of the Catholic State.  Which is why there are so many roosters on weathervanes in France.

The rooster of France even has a name: Chanteclair.

The French Rooster fighting the German Eagle

France isn’t the only country associated with a rooster.  The Cock of Barcelos is a symbol of Portugal.  According to legend, a dead rooster in the city of Barcelos crowed to prove the innocence of a man who was falsely accused and sentenced to death.  The innocent man then later returned to sculpt the Crucifix to the Lord of the Rooster which is displayed at an archeological museum in Barcelos.

For some reason this was decided to be a good symbol for the state of Portugal.

Double-headed eagles go way back as symbols.  It was a good symbol for the Byzantine Empire – one head for the secular rule of the Emperor, the other for his religious rule (or perhaps one for East and one for West) and then every country that claimed to follow in its footsteps had to take on the symbol.  The Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire, the Turks and the Austrians all used this symbol at one time.

Various double-headed eagles. Top row: Holy Roman Empire, Russian Empire, Turkish Empire. Bottom row: Austrian Empire, Byzantine Empire, and Albania.

The German Imperial Eagle (Reichsadler) dates back to Charlemagne, but was used to symbolize the entire German state, rather than the individual German monarchies during the days of Confederation and then for the Empire.  The current eagle image dates back to the Weimar Republic and was brought back by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1950.


Eagle in the German Reichstag

What exactly this bird is supposed to symbolize isn’t so important.  What is important is that, like the American bald eagle, it looks pretty badass.

National Personification: Marianne

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

Today is Bastille Day!  In honor of France, and as part of our examination of National Personification this month, we present Marianne, the symbol of France.

It’s unclear where her name came from, but the figure of Marianne is an allegorical symbol for Liberty, Reason, the French Nation, and the civic virtues of the Republic.

Marianne is young, strikingly beautiful, and wears (or holds) a Phrygian cap, which is associated with freedom from slavery in the Roman era.

She appears on stamps, coins, you name it.  They take her pretty seriously.

Images of a French lady of liberty precede the Revolution, but it was in 1792 that Marianne became the symbol of the republic.  A commoner, Marianne was intended to be a representative of the people, rather than of the royal family, who had previously represented the French State.  Marianne has a humble background, as indicated by her dress.  She’s brave and hard working, and often falling out of her clothes while she’s being brave and hard working.  Gotta love the French.

For most of her history, Marianne was modeled after imaginary or anonymous women, but starting in 1969, France started modeling her after French celebrities.  Brigitte Bardot was the first celebrity to lend her likeness to the national symbol.  The current celebrity to provide the image of Marianne is actress and model Laetitia Casta.

Controversially, Laetitia Casta currently lives in England.  So much for patriotism.


National Personification: Lighthearted Characters

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

It’s National Personification Month on the PhLog, in which we examine characters and images that are intended to represent countries.

Unlike, say, America’s Uncle Sam, or France’s Marianne, not all national personifications are very serious.

Israel is often personified by Srulik, a cartoon character created by Israeli cartoonish Dosh in the 1950s. Srulik is a young, dedicated farmer. He looks really laid back in those sandals and shorts. He’s a radically different image than the Jews of the shtetls, the beaten-down Wandering Jew or other anti-Semitic caricatures that were so prevalent in the decades leading to the foundation of the State of Israel.  Srulik has been used to make all sorts of political statements throughout the years, but he always seems a relaxed comic type figure, even when he’s at war. In a way Srulik is more of a mascot, a laid back pal to the nation of Israel.

Zé Povinho is the unofficial personification of Portugal. Unlike many other national symbols, Povinho is decidedly working class.  Created in 1875 by artist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, Povinho is a poor peasant, a simple man of the people, who mocks the powerful and elite.

Here he is giving a rude gesture, as he is often depicted. Which says… what? That the Portugese pride themselves on being rude? That the Portugese need to be put in their place and taken down a notch by a poor person? We’re not quite sure what the message is.

One thing though — unlike England’s John Bull, Canada’s Johnny Canuck, the Russian bear, or even the young laid-back Srulik, Zé Povinho probably wouldn’t be much help defending his people from foreign invasion. Good thing no one’s tried to invade Portugal for two hundred years.

National Personification: Uncle Sam

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

This month we’re looking at National Personifications, or characters created to symbolize a country.

In honor of Independence Day in the US, today’s post is about Uncle Sam.

Uncle Sam wasn’t always the symbol for the US.  During the revolution, Brother Jonathan served that purpose.  And Columbia, a feminine figure, was the predominate national personification through the First World War.

But Uncle Sam has always been around.  The first known reference dates back to the American Revolution in the 13th verse of “Yankee Doodle”:

Old Uncle Sam come then to change
Some pancakes and some onions,
For ’lasses cakes, to carry home
To give his wife and young ones.

Yes. The author of that verse actually rhymed “onions” with “young ones.”  It was a different time.

In an often-repeated and possibly apocryphal story, in the War of 1812, a meat packer by the name of Sam Wilson supplied meat for soldiers in New York State.  His packages were stamped “U.S.” (for United States) which soldiers referred to as initials for “Uncle Sam.”

In the late 1860’s, cartoonist Thomas Nast (who also drew his share of Brother Jonathans

and Columbias

began drawing Uncle Sam as a personification of the US.  He reworked and defined the character until he resembled the one we have today, as popularized in James Montgomery Flagg’s famous posters in WWI.

Here’s Thomas Nast’s first drawing of Uncle Sam:

Here he is a little later:

and here’s that famous poster.

What are Uncle Sam’s attributes?  He’s skinny and not particularly young.  He has that top hat and odd facial hair.

No offence to Columbia, but he’s much more interesting-looking than she is:

(although apparently she can fly and has great taste in hats)

Perhaps America was tired of all the Columbia propaganda images during WWI or maybe something about Sam tickled our fond national memories of the lanky and bearded Abe Lincoln, or perhaps the idea of a nutty Uncle as a national symbol was more comforting than that of a floozy draped in a flag, but whatever the reason, after WWI Columbia dropped off and Uncle Sam rose to the top.

Uncle Sam’s image was used so much during World War II that a German intelligence agency codenamed the US “Samland.”

Unlike other national personifications, Uncle Sam isn’t that much fun.  He doesn’t really do much.  He’s a pretty serious guy.  And he’s often depicted looking very upset indeed.

This sourpuss was officially adopted as the national symbol of the United States in 1950.

National Personification: Canada

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

July is a big month for a lot of countries.  Canada Day is on July 1st.  American Independence is celebrated on July 4th.  The French commemorate the start of their revolution on July 14th.  And even more countries may celebrate other things too, but we don’t feel like doing the research right now.

In honor of all of these holidays, we’re taking the month to discuss national symbols, namely national personifications.

From Uncle Sam to the Lady of the Mountain, countries often use a fictional character to serve as their symbol.  Where did these come from, and how do they reflect a country’s national characteristics?

Since it was just their national holiday, we’ll start off with Canada’s Johnny Canuck.

Johnny Canuck first appeared in political cartoons in 1869.  A lumberjack or rancher or some other sort of frontier person, Johnny was fairly simpleminded as far as national personifications go, but he was adept at resisting the bullying of the far more imposing national figures of Uncle Sam and John Bull.

Johnny Canuck on the world stage

There wasn’t a lot to Johnny Canuck though so he kind of faded away.  Until 1942 that is, when cartoonist Leo Bachle brought him back as a super hero in Dime Comics No. 1.

Unlike, say, Captain America, Johnny Canuck had no super strength or any super powers at all.  Still, he fought Adolf Hitler and almost single-handedly ended World War II.  How’s that for Canadian heroism?

Johnny Canuck is still viewed as a can-do, stalwart, and honest figure to represent Canada as a country imbued with those characteristics.