L'Illustration magazine - cover for Christmas 1896/1897 (1896)

This cover was designed in 1896 for the special Christmas edition of L'Illustration. As in many examples of Mucha's designs for magazine covers, this composition is rich with symbolism.  Although Mucha didn't mention this particular design in his own writing, it can be interpreted as follows:

As indicated by the title, 1896-Noel-1897, this edition of the magazine marks the turn of the year - the passing of the old year and its renewal.  The pale figure of the dead (or dying) woman in the foreground seems to symbolise the passing year, while the winged figure is wrapping her body in a shroud. The silhouetted flower held by the passing woman is a thistle, which often symbolises sin and earthly suffering. However, the hope for renewal and redemption is indicated by the image of the silhouetted church building in the background (considering the occasion, probably the Church of the Nativity) as well as the band of decorative motifs on the left, consisting of three pairs of hands and snowy branches of a Christmas tree. In the Christian context, pairs of hands often allude to spiritual power or the conduits to convey spiritual energy, while Christmas trees represent vitality or life force.  Whist these motifs were inspired by the Christian tradition, the idea of 'mechnical' hands with cogs is totally unique.  By this, probably Mucha expressed the power of a mysterious God who governs time and the harmonious working of Nature.