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Hunters in the Snow by Bruegel – 1565, The Genesis of Post Modern Western Landscape Painting

Writing in the “opinion” section of Nature, art historian Martin Kemp pointed 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  One, in a series of 6 paintings( of which 5 have survived, titled, The Seasons, Hunters in the Snow was created by Pieter Bruegel. Many art historians believe these works to have been a new beginning, the post modern era of Western Landscape Painting. Bruegel for the first time, correctly portrayed humankind as one small part of the natural world, and not separate. Humankind was portrayed existing within the cycle of the seasons, nature was not idealized, instead, it comes across as cold and cruel. 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. Pieter Bruegel (Brueghel) the Elder (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈpitəɾ ˈbɾøːɣəl]; c. 1525 – 9 September 1569) was a Flemish renaissance painter and printmaker known for his landscapes and peasant scenes (so called genre painting). He is sometimes referred to as the “Peasant Bruegel” to distinguish him from other members of the Brueghel dynasty, but he is also the one generally meant when the context does not make clear which Brueghel is being referred to. From 1559 he dropped the ‘h’ from his name and signed his paintings as Bruegel. He received the nickname ‘Peasant Bruegel’ or ‘Bruegel the Peasant’ for his alleged practice of dressing up like a peasant in order to mingle at weddings and other celebrations, thereby gaining inspiration and authentic details for his genre paintings. Bruegel specialized in genre paintings populated by peasants, often with a large landscape element, but also painted religious works. Making the life and manners of peasants the main focus of a work was rare in painting in Brueghel’s time, and he was a pioneer of the Netherlandish genre painting. His earthy, unsentimental but vivid depiction of the rituals of village life—including agriculture, hunts, meals, festivals, dances, and games—are unique windows on a vanished folk culture and a prime source of iconographic evidence about both physical and social aspects of 16th century life. Bruegel’s winter landscapes are a chilling tale of the severity of the dark months between fall and spring during the Little Ice Age. Using abundant spirit and comic power, he created some of the early images of acute social protest in art history.On his deathbed he reportedly ordered his wife to burn the most subversive of his drawings to protect his family from political persecution. Bruegel Gallery

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