As the UK basks in it’s hottest days of the year, or maybe ever, it seems like an appropriate time to chill out with a look at one of the most beautiful depictions of winter.
Pieter Breugel the Elder painted The Hunters in the Snow in 1565 as part of a series of works depicting the different seasons. It is a view of country life, and countryfolk among the elements, that can be interpreted as both unremittingly harsh, and hopelessly idealised at the same time.
Figures in the distance skate and play hockey on a frozen lake. The hunters themselves do not appear to have caught anything (the painting is also known as The Return of the Hunters), and they trudge through the snow rather than stride proudly. Their dogs look starved. Despondency and joy affect opposing corners against a landscape of overcast bleakness that also manages to be chocolate box perfect.
Although many of Breugel’s other works in the series have been lost, Hunters has repeatedly found it’s niche as a Christmas card favourite, and been referenced in many cinematic works by Andrei Tarkovsky among others. It can hold different interpretations for different audiences, and it is that ambiguity and beauty that will ensure it lasts through the ages.
It currently hangs in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.