Saturday In The Museum With Pieter

Image: Pieter Bruegel (the Elder), Hunters in the Snow (1565)

Our Saturday art post continues to look at sources of food as the subject. This week, a Dutch master’s work and a description in poetry by an American master of the craft.

The painting is Hunters in the Snow (Jagers in de Sneeuw) by Pieter Bruegel (the Elder). It dates from 1565. In that era a common theme was capturing rural work done through the months. This painting is one of five that survived from Bruegel’s series of such pieces. It is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Bruegel is considered one – if not the – great artist of Dutch Renaissance painting. He “was the greatest member of a large and important southern Netherlandish family of artists active for four generations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A longtime resident of Antwerp, the center of publishing in the Netherlands and a vibrant commercial capital, Bruegel brought a humanizing spirit to traditional subjects and boldly created new ones.”

The scene is pleasant to look at, but it depicts an apparently unsuccessful outing as hunters and dogs trudge back home with only a small fox as the day’s result. There are footprints of a rabbit in the snow, indicating what got away and the black crows add to the sense of dread. Behind the foreground, there are more comforting images of games being played, fires to warm, food to eat, and majestic mountains in the background. Of course, such mountains do not exist in Holland, but Bruegel appears to have imported them from his trips to the south.

Interestingly, Bruegel’s work became a fascination of many poets, who used it as a subject, attempting to capture in words what is on the canvas. This tradition, called ekphrastic, is most famously exemplified by Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn. The great American poet William Carlos Williams did one such poem for this Bruegel painting, as did others.

Williams’ poems is spare and straightforward in his own style:

The Hunter in the Snow

The over-all picture is winter
icy mountains
in the background the return

from the hunt it is toward evening
from the left
sturdy hunters lead in

their pack the inn-sign
hanging from a
broken hinge is a stag a crucifix

between his antlers the cold
inn yard is
deserted but for a huge bonfire

that flares wind-driven tended by
women who cluster
about it to the right beyond

the hill is a pattern of skaters
Brueghel the painter
concerned with it all has chosen

a winter-struck bush for his
foreground to
complete the picture


Despite the depths of winter, modern life has largely protected us from the arbitrary bounty of the hunt – if not the supply chain. If you are in or around Washington, D.C. then we can help you in your hunt for good food. When we are not posting about art, we are a dining guide for the District, and we tend to be a bit more punchy than Williams.

We have 300 recommended restaurants in our dining guide that you can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and current operating status (dine-in and/or take-out, etc.) in either LIST or MAP format.  Though operating status is changing day-to-day, so be sure to double-check.

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