Building a snowman is one of the most picturesque winter activities, which is why snowmen have become a wintertime cultural icon. A snowman appeared on the very first postcards, was the subject of some of the earliest photos, and even starred in silent movies. Frosty may be a happy snowman now, but his ancestors have a much more varied — and sometimes dark — history.
THE MIDDLE AGES
Snowmen were a phenomenon in the Middle Ages. They were constructed with deep thought and great skill because, during a time of limited means of expression, snow was a free art supply that literally fell from the sky. These artistic feats were popular winter attractions for well-to-do couples who wanted to get their fix of temporary art. Snowmen were often created by famous artists, including 19-year-old Michelangelo who, in 1494, was commissioned by the ruler of Florence to sculpt a snowman in his mansion’s courtyard.