The Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder are in the medieval and early Renaissance tradition of the Labours of the Months: depictions of various rural activities and work understood by a spectator in Breugel’s time as representing the different months or times of the year. This painting is one of a series of six commissioned in the late 16th century by the Antwerp banker Niclaes Jongelinck, five of which still survive. Only Summer is now considered to be lost.
The painting shows a wintry scene. Three hunters are returning from an expedition accompanied by their dogs. The expedition doesn’t seem to be successful. Only one man carries something and it is only a fox. In front of the hunters in the snow are the footprints of a rabbit or hare – which has escaped or been missed by the hunters.
The landscape itself is a valley with a river that meanders through it and jagged peaks visible on the far side. It is not typical for the Netherlands. A watermill is seen with its wheel frozen stiff. In the distance, figures ice skate, play hockey with modern style sticks and curl on a frozen lake.
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.
Hunters in the Snow is used extensively in Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s films Solaris (1972) and The Mirror (1974). Solaris is a legendary sci-fi movie from USRR about a psychologist who is sent to a station orbiting a distant planet in order to discover what has caused the crew to go insane. This scene of Solaris is filled with memories that represent main character’s longing for home, and one of this is The Hunters in the Snow. The painting contains, group of memories important for the character that are images from Earth.
The Hunters in the Snow also appears and in Lars von Trier’s 2011 film Melancholia, Alain Tanner’s film Dans la ville blanche (1983). It was an inspiration for Roy Andersson’s 2014 film A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.
The Hunters in the Snow belongs to the magnificent collection of Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.