When I was a little kid, my father told me around Christmas one year that I should always make sure to behave, because Santa was everywhere. It was a terrifying prospect, but it turns out he was right: Santa is everywhere, even in the paintings of some of art’s classical masters. It’s all the work of photographer Ed Wheeler, who superimposes himself dressed as Santa in the works of Botticelli, Caravaggio, Monet and more.
A photographer for more than 35 years, Ed Wheeler has been dressing as Santa for holiday cards for nearly as long. For years, Wheeler would send out photos of himself as Santa doing funny thing to clients around the holiday: getting some ink, driving a sports car, going bowling, or tagging a wall with spray-paint: “KRIS KRINGLE 4 LYFE.” It was fun stuff, but not particularly original: most people have at least one crazy uncle who does the same thing.
Inspiration struck, according to Wheeler’s site, in 2011 as Wheeler stood in front of Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was then, Wheeler says, that he first realized that Santa was destined for greater things: to invade the world of classical art.
Since then, Santa has made surprise appearances in many famous paintings thanks to Wheeler. He appeared in his long underwear as Venus de Milo in Botticelli’s most iconic painting, and as a water boy fanning a boxer in Thomas Eakins’ 1898 painting Between Rounds. Santa Claus has eaten supper with Caravaggio, stood in as God to Michelangelo’s Adam, and gazed at water lillies on a bridge painted by Claude Monet. Through Wheeler, Santa has ridden Napoleon’s horse, given a cup of Hemlock to Socrates, sipped a cup of coffee in a 1940s diner, played poker with dogs, and floated in a flock of businessmen into the stratosphere in humorous interpretations of some of art’s most iconic scenes.
To date, Wheeler has incorporated himself dressed as Santa in more than 40 paintings. His works have gone over so well, in fact, that the Philadelphia Museum of Art is now selling his Santa Classics in their official gift shop as $12.95 note card sets. If you’re late getting your Christmas cards off to some of the art lovers in your life, you could do worse than to head over.