• Hunters in the Snow

Hunters in the Snow

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Hunters in the Snow
Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Oil painting on panel; Size: 117x162cm; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

In the Netherlands artists, unable to count on the commission of great cycles of religious paintings, devoted themselves principally to the production of easel paintings, which the bourgeoisie hung on the walls of their homes. Both Luther and Erasmus considered the home to be the ideal place to learn the stories of the Bible and had written about the pedagogic function of its decoration. Proverbs were thought particularly suitable for the adornment of doors, windows and goblets. Representations of the months, on the other hand, were usually located in the dining room. This picture painted by Bruegel in 1565 belongs to a series of Months or Seasons of which only five panels survive. The most likely hypothesis is that there were six of them in all and that they represented pairs of months: in this case two winter months, perhaps the last in the series and therefore the end of the year, which for the Low Countries began in March. In the European tradition, the months were generally represented by illustration of the human activities typical of the period, often accompanied by the corresponding sign of the Zodiac. Bruegel's paintings underline the seasonal changes in the landscape and the work that permits food to be put on the table, suited to their location in the dining room. In particular, the hunters are coming home with their bag, passing in front of an inn called "At the Stag" where a pig is being roasted: peasants were generally not allowed to hunt big game and therefore devoted their attention mainly to rabbits, hares, foxes and badgers, partly with the aim, in springtime, of protecting the crops. The "cartographic" layout of the painting may be a reflection of the artist's friendship with the geographer Abraham Ortelius and serves to stress the descriptive character of Flemish painting, in contrast to the narrative style typical of Italian art.

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