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Hunters in the snow

Painting, 1565, 117×162 cm

Description of the artwork «Hunters in the snow»

The Hunters in the Snow is considered to be the best work by Peter Brueghel the Elder. It is part of a series of paintings covering the seasons of the year commissioned from the artist by the wealthy Antwerp banker Niclaes Jonghelinck to decorate his house.
It is known that Brueghel devoted himself to this series during the whole of 1565. But what is really interesting is that the destiny of these paintings is often given as an example of art as an investment. Jonghelinck was a rich man who early on realized the attractiveness of investing in art.
First, he purchased The Tower of Babel, then The Procession to Calvary, and finally it occurred to him to order paintings from scratch rather than buying finished works. He did so, but right after signing the agreement with Brueghel, Jonghelinck faced financial difficulties. In order to get a large loan from the municipal treasury, as financial security Jonghelinck offered the document verifying his right to the paintings by Brueghel that had still not been created. Once the works were finished, they were moved to the treasury vault, remaining there for several decades. The artist never saw his paintings up to his death in 1569.
Out of the whole series called either The Months or The Seasons (the exact number of works is unknown), only five pieces have survived. Three of them (1,2), including The Hunters in the Snow, are in Vienna, The Harvesters can be seen in New York and Haymaking is in Prague.
The Hunters in the Snow has almost no shadows. Art historian Olga Sugrobova remarks that it is painted "as if we'd been standing with our eyes closed for some time and then opened them abruptly, finding ourselves in bright daylight". We can see a gorgeous snowy landscape sweeping far away with white topped hills and mountains, icebound ponds and Dutchmen at their seasonal activities - hunting, ice-skating and cooking. The building on the left is an inn with the sign "At shepherd's". People are throwing hay onto the fire to smoke a boar.
The lower left part of the panel is dominated by the hunters. It was not typical for Brueghel to paint figures of men and dogs as large as here. The hunched-over figures of the hunters burdened with game bags convey their feeling of coldness and tiredness. But the artist intentionally hides the faces of the hunters, as he paints them generally emerging like dark spots amidst a white, green and blue landscape. It was Brueghel's policy to apply a rich palette in depicting not a man, which would be traditional, but nature instead. In the painter's artistic system, man is regarded only as a part of something immeasurably greater, part of the landscape as a celestial creation, part of the universe.
Artists preceding Brueghel mostly tended to interpret nature as everlasting summer, whereas Brueghel reveals the sublime beauty of a winter landscape.
It is curious that as the size of the figures and objects diminishes in this painting, they still do not lose their sharpness; thus, The Hunters in the Snow allows considerable zooming without loss of quality. The work remains a masterpiece, even to its tiniest detail.

Written by Anna Vcherashniaya
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Landscape, Genre scene

Style of art: Northern Renaissance

Technique: Oil

Materials: Wood

Date of creation: 1565

Size: 117×162 cm

Artwork in selections: 65 selections

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