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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“The Hunters in the Snow” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

"The Hunters in the Snow" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

“The Hunters in the Snow” by

Pieter Bruegel the Elder

“The Hunters in the Snow” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder shows a wintry scene in which three hunters are returning from their hunt accompanied by their dogs. The expedition does not appear to have been successful as the hunters seem to trudge through the snow with their heads bowed. The dogs similarly appear downtrodden and miserable. One man carries the small corpse of a fox, to highlight the scarcity of the hunt. In front of one of the hunters in the snow are the footprints of a rabbit which has long gone.

The overall impression is one of a cold and overcast winter’s day. The colours are muted whites, browns and greys, the trees are bare of leaves, and wood smoke hangs in the air. On the left, several adults and a child are preparing food at an inn with an outside fire. The landscape consists of a flat-bottomed valley with a river meandering through it and with jagged peaks visible on the far side. On the bottom right, the watermill has its wheel frozen. In the midground, figures are ice skating and playing games.

“The Hunters in the Snow” is a 1565 oil-on-wood painting which is just one of a series of works, that depict different times of the year. As in many of Bruegel’s paintings, the focus of the series is on peasants and their work through the season of the year. The pictures show the activities representative of 16th-century northern European rural life. Numerous details have been carefully added to create a sense of distance; these include the remote town and mountains.

Pieter Bruegel’s Months of the Year Cycle

“The Hunters in the Snow” is one in a series of six works, five of which still survive, that depict different times of the year. The focus of the works is on peasants and their work and does not have the religious themes common in landscape works of the time. Pieter Bruegel the Elder was one of the first generations of artists to grow up when religious subjects had ceased to be the dominant subject.

The surviving months of the year cycle are:

  • “The Gloomy Day” – Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
    • The scene is set around February and March, portrayed by the bleak atmosphere and leafless trees.
  • “The Hay Harvest” – Lobkowicz Palace at Prague Castle, Prague
    • The scene is set around June and July, portraying the hay harvest.
  • “The Hunters in the Snow” – Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
    • This scene is set in the depths of winter during December and January.
  • “The Return of the Herd” – Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
    • The scene is set around October and November with the autumnal colours of the landscape and the bare trees.
  • “The Harvesters” – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
    • The scene is set around August and September, portraying the harvest time.

It is assumed that the sixth painting in the series, which was “High Springtime”, with a scene set around April and May, is lost.

Pieter Bruegel, the Elder

Pieter Bruegel (also Brueghel) the Elder was the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting, a painter known for his landscapes and peasant scenes. He influenced the Dutch Golden Age painting with his innovative choices of subject matter, as one of the first generation of artists to grow up when religious subjects had ceased to be the dominant subject matter of painting.

All his most famous paintings come from the decade before his early death, when he was in his early forties, and at the height of his powers. He dropped the ‘h’ from his name and signed his paintings as Bruegel, and he is sometimes referred to as “Peasant Bruegel”, to distinguish him from the many later painters in his family, including his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1638).

Reflections

  • What can we see in this view of 16th-century rural life?
  • “God made Earth, the Dutch made Holland.” – Dutch Proverb

The Hunters in the Snow

  • Title:               The Hunters in the Snow
  • Alternative:    The Return of the Hunters
  • Dutch:           Jagers in de Sneeuw
  • Artist:             Pieter Bruegel, the Elder
  • Year:              1565
  • Medium:        Oil on wood
  • Dimensions:  117 cm × 162 cm (46 in × ​63 3⁄4 in)
  • Museum:        Kunsthistorisches Museum

Pieter Bruegel, the Elder

Explore the Kunsthistorisches Museum

~~~

“Things used to be that way,
now they’re this way,
and who knows what they will be like later.”

– Belgian Proverbs.

~~~


Photo Credits: 1) Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain]

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