Black or not?

The companion of Saint-Nicolas never was black… or, was he…

In the Black Pete discussion, there have been various attempts to “prove” that the historical companion of Saint Nicolas was not black at all. Most supporters of this class of theories refer to one or two pictures from the following “centsprent” (cent print), that is dated 1850 by them. At this time, the real issue date of this work has not been verified, yet a comparable picture has been identified to originate from 1830. Further investigation has shown that this actually comes from a Belgium issue. The use of a donkey as a steed underpins that, as this is common practice in Belgium and France. Furthermore, the “Saint” in this picture is not Saint Nicolas but Père Fouettard, who in Belgium is known as “vader geselaar”, father scourge. He is shown here with a very peculiar hat and an uncommonly long nose, probably indicating some sort of masquerade. Interestingly, in the Dutch translation of this work we find a description of … a black servant, probably a logical result of translating this “Belgium” tale to the Dutch context. This point has obviously escaped the attention of those that put this theory forward and it can therefore be safely stated that these pictures do not prove at all the absence of black companions in the past, on the contrary. The choice for this specific form of the pictures by the draftsman and publisher remains unclear. Potentially the state of the art of the printing technique has influenced this choice, further investigation would be needed to clarify this

And another picture of Pere Fouettard:

The various appearances of Pere Fouettard, please note the pictures five and six