The Hunters in the Snow
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Hunters in the Snow (Dutch: Jagers in de Sneeuw) (1565) — also known as The Return of the Hunters — is a celebrated oil on wood painting by Pieter Bruegel. The work is one in a series of six works, five of which still survive, that depict different times of the year. The painting is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, located in Vienna, Austria. This painting is an example of the Northern Renaissance movement.
The painting shows a wintry scene in which three hunters are returning from a hunting expedition accompanied by their dogs. By appearances, the expedition was not successful: the hunters appear to trudge wearily, and the dogs appear downtrodden and miserable. One hunter carries the "meagre corpse of a fox" illustrating the paucity of the hunt. The whole visual impression is one of a calm, cold, overcast day; the colours are muted whites and grays, the trees are bare of leaves, and woodsmoke hangs in the air.
The landscape itself is a flat-bottomed valley (a river meanders through it) with jagged peaks visible on the far side. A watermill is seen with its wheel frozen stiff. In the distance, figures ice skate and curl on a freezing lake; they appear as silhouettes.
Interpretation and reception
The 1560s was a time of religious revolution in the Netherlands, and Bruegel (and possibly his patron) may be attempting to portray an ideal of what country life used to be or what they wish it to be.
Writing in the "opinion" section of Nature, art historian Martin Kemp points out that Old Masters are popular subjects for Christmas cards and states that "probably no 'secular' subject is more popular than ... Hunters in the Snow".