Mistick Krewe of Comus Tableaux

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First Mistick Krewe of Comus Tableau Program in 1857

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The Grand Tier of the New Orleans Opera House During Carnival Season

Tableau [short for tableau vivant (from French, literally, living picture)] : a depiction of a scene usually presented on a stage by silent and motionless costumed participants. [1] Tableaux – plural.

The first festival was in 1857 February 24, 1857. When the krewe appeared on stage, they were described as being "beautiful in ugliness- charming in their repulsiveness." Such grotesque mask had never been seen before, as there were upwards of a hundred of them, and no two alike. Each represented different characters in religion and mythology that Milton described in "Paradise Lost."[2]

The first tableaux was "Tartarus." The characters Pluto and Proserpine presiding over The Three Fates; The Three Furies; and the The Three Gorgons.

"The Expulsion" was the second tableau portrayed in which Satan, Beelzebub, Isis, Osiris, and other infernals were represented.

The third tableau displayed was the "Conference of Satan and Beelzebub."
The last depicted was "Pandemonium."

This illustrated Satan presiding over Gluttony, Drunkenness, Indolence, Avarice, Murder, Vanity, Theft, Discord, Licentiousness, and Jealously, being flanked by Sin and Death.

The four part tableau were arranged according with the description in Milton's poem. At the conclusion of the tableau, the "brilliant assemblage present took the floor to indulge in the revelries of the dance, the promenade and the tete-a-tete.

The Krewe, having disbanded, dispersed amid the crowd and joined in the dance in a manner which showed them to be very gentlemanly and agreeable devils." [3]

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Mistick Krewe of Comus 1857 Admittance Ball Card

The fourth Annual Festival 1860 and the theme was “Illustration of American History- Statues of the Great Men of our Country.” The following historic men were featured:

  • Columbus, claiming the newly discovered country
  • Sebastian Cabot, with Vespucci and Carter, whose discoveries were the nearest successors to Columbus.
  • Ponce DeLeon. with Narvaez and Alvaro, the early adventurers of Florida.
  • Ferdinand DeSoto, with Vanzano, Menedez, Vasquez, and DeGourguez, who discovered the Mississippi.
  • DeBienville, de la Salle, Father Hennepin, Landomeere, Jean Rebault, Lacaille, and Nicholas Bone.
  • Sir Walter Raleigh, Martin Frobisher, Gerald Archer, Greenville and Ratcliffe these men being English adventurers and settlers in Virginia.
  • Captain John Smith and Pocahontas both part of Virginia history
  • William Penn who founded Pennsylvania
  • Hendrick Hudson and Peter Stuyvesant, Dutch discoverer of the Hudson River and the Dutch Governor of New York, respectively
  • New England Pilgrim founders Edward Winslow, John Carver, Miles Standish, John Alden, William Bradford, Edward Filly, Isaac Allerton, and Roger Williams.
  • Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Roger Sherman, Richard Henry Lee and John Hancock all heroes of the American Revolution
  • Hero of Chalmette- General Andrew Jackson
  • Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster in the illustration of the Compromise of 1833.

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Mistick Krewe of Comus 1890 Admittance Ball Card 

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Mistick Krewe of Comus 1890 Admittance Ball Card 

In the Tableaux, the statues "marched down the center to the floor to the dress circle, separated into tow lines, marched back around the sides and thus formed a circle around the theater. Pedestals, representing blocks of marble, had been prepared, and upon each of these, at the word of command, stepped a character ... The statues were arranged in order of history - Columbus and Cartier at the rear of the stage and Jackson at the front by the dress circle, the contemporaries of each period standing vis-a-vis. The effect was splendid, and heightened much to the pleasure which the spectators had enjoyed the beautiful groups above described.”[4]

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Mardi Gras in New Orleans- Grand Tableau of the Mistick Krewe in March 1873

This description of Mistick Krewe of Comus's Grand Tableau in 1873 appeared in Harper's Weekly Magazine below:

NEW ORLEANS is the only city in the United States where the carnival is celebrated with the true Old World jollity and spirit. The attempt to inaugurate similar festivities in Washington two years ago was a wretched failure, and the experiment has wisely been avoided in our Northern cities. This year New Orleans surpassed herself in gorgeous revelry. The whole city was given up to grotesque and absurd sport, and the festivities closed with a grand procession and masquerade ball on a more magnificent scale of foolery than was ever witnessed in that city before.

The procession, whimsically termed the “Mistick Krewe of Comus,” represented in grotesque masquerade the “missing links” of the Darwinian theory of the origin of species, and was irresistibly laughable. It was followed by a grand ball at the St. Charles Theatre, in which these masqueraders took part. Previous to the dancing two striking tableaux were displayed on the stage. The first rising of the curtain revealed a scene at the bottom of the sea. On the smooth ocean floor the grotesque, the horrid, and the beautiful appeared in stranger contrast than they are ever revealed to the submarine diver. The Anemone's beautiful form was blossoming beside the Sponge; the snowy Coral reached upward with its branching arms from where the Alligator lay; the Snail was paying court to the glittering Periwinkle, the Dolphin was gambling, the Crabs protesting, the Shark and Whale were holding council. It was a scene of universal subaqueous courtship. The Nettles were interchanging stinging kisses, and the Seal and Walrus, with other competitors, were suing in vain the lovely Mermaid. She, seated on a rock, just lifted waist-high above the tide, awaited a higher destiny, a better match.

When the curtain rose on the second tableau the Gorilla had just been crowned, and was seated on his throne under a dais, with Queen Chacona on his right, and Orang, the Premier, on his left. On either side of the broad ascent to the throne the animal and vegetable world were crowding toward the royal presence, each in the order of his rank, the “Toilers of the Sea” kneeling in loyal awe upon the pavement below. In the midst of the stair were three musicians—the Grasshopper with fiddle and bow, the Locust with his rattle, and the Beetle with his hammer. A pedestal on either hand bore the statuesque forms of the Baboon and the Marikina.

In front of the stage stood a regal figure, that of Comus himself, in “human form divine,” presenting a startling contrast to the throng of “missing links" behind. For a moment the tableau was presented to the admiring gaze of the great audience, then the curtain descended, and the ball opened. It is this second tableau which is represented in our picture on page 244. [5]

[1] Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “tableau,” accessed May 1, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tableau

[2] Wrenn, B. W., and Western and Atlantic Railroad Company. Mardi Gras in New Orleans : its ancient and modern observance : history of the Mystick Krewe of Comus, the Twelfth-Night Revelers, and Knights of Momus : with scenes, sketches and incidents of the reign of His Majesty, the King of the Carnival. B.W. Wrenn, general passenger and ticket agent [for Western and Atlantic Railroad Company], [1874]. Sabin Americana: History of the Americas, 1500-1926, link.gale.com/apps/doc/CY0106060672/SABN?u=
mag_u_usm&sid=SABN&xid=13eb8760&pg=1. Accessed 25 Mar. 2021

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “The Mistick Krewe,” Harper's Weekly Magazine 17, no. 848 (1873): 247.

Mistick Krewe of Comus Tableaux