One of my favorite things to read growing up was Mad Magazine. I loved it because it was sarcastic and every page was jam packed with so many things to look at. I’d do my first read through and then I’d go back and meticulously look at all the details. I managed to get years of enjoyment from those magazines.
In college I was in an art history class focusing on the Renaissance period. I loved classes taught by this particular professor. She loved art and she lived in Italy and various other places where she studied art up close. She gave the class an assignment where we were given a partner and an artist and we had to prepare a lecture to share with the class.
A Great Flemish Artist
I was assigned Pieter Bruegel the Elder. My first thought was this guy could have painted for Mad Mag. His paintings are full of crazy behavior, everyday life, tons of details, and a large depth of field. In his painting below, Netherlandish Proverb, you can see all kinds of crazy behavior and someone sticking their butt out the window, just like on the Mad cover.
It’s 39 degrees outside and overcast and my dog is expressing her primal need to hunt. It’s definitely feeling like winter. So, I thought I’d take a look at a Bruegel painting that’s so cold it will have me reaching for another blanket.
Hunters in the Snow 1565
A wealthy tax collector named Niclaes Jonghelinch commissioned Bruegel to paint a landscape series of seasons of the year. You can see up close details of this painting and watch a short video about it at this website.
1. First, I notice the broken sign. Not a problem at the moment, but that thing could fall and some unlucky person is gonna have a pretty bad headache. Better get that fixed.
2. Next I notice the warmth from the fire and the hunched over positions of the people. They look so cold. The hunters and dogs in the foreground are all hunched over too. It doesn’t even look like they got very much on their hunt.
3. Bruegel did a good job of creating a composition that slowly leads the viewer around the image. My eyes go from the hunters down the slope, past the plant, and down to the little scene at the bottom right corner. I can barely see the tiny birds underneath the bridge where that person is carrying something across it. You can see a few more people doing their daily things.
4. We’ve pretty much just seen peasants working so far which is very common in Bruegel’s artwork. Right here we’ve got funner activities of people skating and playing.
5. The mountain peaks are my favorite part. This scene isn’t an exact replication of any real Flemish landscape. Bruegel was inspired by the Alps. I’m personally reminded of the famous Vasquez Rocks in Southern California.
6. The sky is so overcast that you don’t actually see any shadows being cast. At first I thought that there was light shining on the tree limbs, but I guess that’s actually snow. The snow pops off of the tree limbs really well and makes me notice the birds again.
7 and 8. I spend some time looking at the distant background and noticing all of the details that I can see.
Well, I’m tired of being cold and frankly, I’m tired of staring at the details in this painting. Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a great painter and we can learn a lot and be entertained from studying his work . I hope you enjoyed his winter themed painting as much as I did.