The Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel is an iconic work of the Northern Renaissance painted in 1565. While many people know the work as an example of one of Bruegel's famous oil paintings, it is an oil-on-wood artwork.
The artwork was Commissioned by the banker and art collector Nicolaes Jonghelinck and formed part of a larger decorative scheme for Jonghelinck’s opulent mansion.
Five Pieter Bruegel the Elder paintings form a series depicting different seasons throughout the year. This particular artwork depicts the coldest months of winter.
Consequently, hunters return with their dogs after a possibly unsuccessful hunt. One man carries a fox corpse, while an escaped hare or rabbit's footprints are visible in the snow.
The scene forms part of the European “Labors of the Months” tradition, referring to cycles of Medieval and Renaissance art depicting rural activities occurring throughout the year.
Indeed, Bruegel’s series contained twelve independent artworks. Unfortunately, only the following five paintings survive, The Gloomy Day (February to March), The Hay Harvest (June to July), The Harvesters (August to September), and The Return of the Herd (October to November).
In terms of meaning, Labors” artworks often link with the signs of the zodiac, fate, and astrology. Oil paintings by Pieter Bruegel The Elder are no exception are they are deeply symbolic religious paintings.
Accordingly, these oil paintings on canvas often represent humanity’s often futile efforts in a deeply ordered, God-created world. Amidst our secular lives and concerns, only faith in God and the natural divine order could bring ultimate comfort.
As well as the Christian and allegorical meanings, “Labors of the Months” paintings were deeply significant for developing European landscape paintings.
Pieter Bruegel’s painting shows a classic wintry view of the Netherlandish countryside, with three hunters trudging across an intricately detailed snowy landscape. While the exact location is unknown (likely entirely imaginary), the level of detail is extraordinary. Indeed, the jagged mountain peaks in the distance do not exist in either Holland or Belgium. Aside from the peak, the painting presents a flat-bottomed valley, a relatively common geographic formation.
The branches are dusted with a fine layer of snow while the figures in the distance play with toboggans and spinning tops. Despite the cold, men extinguish a chimney fire while others shoot birds. A village church steeple is also just visible in the far distance.
Giving a foreboding atmosphere to the painting, crows sit on barren branches. In northern European art, crows were an ill-omen for the winter months ahead. Indeed, in Dutch culture, magpies and crows were commonly linked with the devil and back luck.
The trees on the left-hand side of the canvas frame the image, while the hunters’ path down the valley easily leads the viewer's eye across the painting.
Overall, the colors provide an extremely muted, cold impression. Whites and grays predominate the scheme, while the trees are bare of leaves, and smoke looms in the air.
Today, Bruegel's painting, The Hunters in the Snow, hangs in the permanent collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder artworks are some of the finest examples of paintings from the early Northern Renaissance.
Secular themes take priority in paintings such as Hunters in the Snow and Pieter Bruegel the Elder Netherlandish Proverbs 1559. His highly detailed paintings celebrate everyday life, contrasting with traditional and stylized religious wall art. Bruegel's painting takes a significant shift away from popular Italian Renaissance styles, which previously focused on saints and Biblical narratives.
Bruegel’s art was foundational for the Northern European artistic style, particularly some great masters such as paintings by Vermeer, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt artworks. Additionally, Bruegel ensured Northern European art evolved in its distinctive direction by pursuing his unique approach.
The 1560s witnessed an extreme religious revolution in the Netherlands, providing additional significance to the work. In addition, the protestant reformation swept through Northern Europe, bringing substantial changes to everyday life.
While Bruegel’s landscape painting does not reference traditional religious art, it does link with nature and “ideal” country life and its rapid societal and cultural changes.
Art reproductions of Netherlandish Proverbs and Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, are available online from our online collection of museum quality oil paintings for sale.
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