Pieter Bruegel (c. 1525 - 1569): The Hunters in the Snow

2/1/2021, 10:54:28 AM
Pieter Bruegel (c. 1525 - 1569): The Hunters in the Snow, 1565, oil on oak panel, 117 x 162 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna One of the most famous landscape paintings of the Northern Renaissance and incidentally the world's most popular classical Christmas card design, 'Hunters in the Snow' by Pieter Bruegel was originally part of a series of six pieces. Also called 'The Return of the Hunters', this Bruegel oil painting evokes the harsh conditions and temperatures of winter. In the foreground, three hunters are depicted returning from a hunting expedition with only a fox, to show for their effort. They and their dogs appear exhausted. Beside them is an inn, and its rust-colored bricks and the bright yellow fire in front of it are a striking contrast to the whites and grays and ashy blues that dominate the painting. The valley occupies the middle ground of the picture, frozen ponds and fields are dotted with skaters, while icicles hand from the mill wheel to the right. Bare trees litter the landscape. Fringed with mountain foothills and a cluster of jagged peaks (based on sketches made during the artist's 1552-3 trip through the Alps), the valley stretches as far as the horizon, populated by small villages laid out in the frozen flatlands. The entire scene is characterized by Bruegel's chilly colour scheme of pale green sky and ice, along with muted white snow - both set off by the dark browns and blacks of the trees, birds, dogs and people. It is a cold, gloomy late afternoon in winter. The high horizon line suggests that we, the viewer, experience this scene from high above, the same perspective as might be enjoyed by the crows in the foreground trees’ branches. He masterfully blends sweeping vistas with intimate portrayals of the human condition, and the mundane with the fantastical.. In replicating the world on a scale both large and small he seems to present a mirror to the human condition  itself: continuously locked to life’s day to day activities, yet often striving to see the world in all its glory in an instant.

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