He is an innovator of landscape painting.
Although Joachim Patinir, 1515-1524 is considered the first landscape painter, it is in Brueghel’s work that nature comes to the fore.
The topography dominates the compositions.
In the XIV and XV the artists began to use the landscape in their paintings as a background for other elements.
In the Renaissance, painters represented religious and mythological scenes in Italian-style pastoral settings, where the landscape was elegantly reproduced, but still subordinated to the historical or religious message.
But Brueghel puts the landscape in the foreground and also represents human activities as an integral part of the landscape.
Brueghel has a keen interest in the sights, sounds and everyday experiences of life close to nature.
His landscapes configure the daily life of its inhabitants while they shape the landscape.
XVI there is a sharp drop in temperatures that mark the beginning of a phase of climate change called the Little Ice Age.
One of the coldest winters is 1565, the year Pieter Brueghel the Elder paints Hunters in the snow.
The concern of the time for the changing climate and its impact on community life inspires Brueghel to paint innovative everyday scenes set in the snowy field.
This is how he captures on the canvas this period of extreme cold, in which the earth is covered in a layer of brilliant white, rivers and lakes freeze and all kinds of creatures die due to the extraordinary weather conditions. Hunters in the Snow offers a landscape composition that is a window into the bliss and adversities of an ecologically turbulent time in European history.
1552 Brueghel travels through the Alps and through Italy. During the trip he makes sketches of the landscapes that he sees, some of which are preserved, as well as detailed studies made with pencil and ink.
The Alps influence Brueghel’s artistic style, as seen in hunters in the snow.
Although the landscape is realistically represented, it is a setting based in part on the artist’s alpine memories.
This type of topography is not typical for the Netherlands, it is a fantasy alpine landscape.
By showing nature as the unpredictable mistress of human destiny, Brueghel proposes a spiritual reading of the painting.
In the middle of the ice and to compensate for the shadows cast by the mountains, the community that lives under its shadow, thrives and bustles with activity despite the tremendous cold.
The painting suggests that man and nature are linked in a more complex relationship than mere submission.
Instead of being subjected to the big freeze, the characters skate, go sledding and practice winter sports on the frozen lakes. Hardworking and determined men accompanied by loyal dogs make their way through the snow wrapped in several layers of clothing.
Unlike the people of the valley, hunters who appear dejected return in one piece.
Hunters in the Snow is a genre painting depicting ordinary people doing their daily tasks.
This style became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, especially in the Netherlands, where it attracted the recently fortunate middle classes.
Brueghel, a pioneer of genre painting, paints many lively scenes of rural life, from weddings and balls to festivals and banquets.
Hunters in the Snow is part of a series of six or twelve paintings known as The Months, of which only five are preserved and corresponds to the month of January.
This series is commissioned by wealthy Brueghel patron Niclaes Jonghelinck for his Antwerp mansion and each painting represents a month of the year, condensed into a pastoral scene.
Brueghel is inspired by the tradition of medieval books of hours, books for private prayer that are illustrated with calendars of the seasons and their labors.
Brueghel’s legacy is evident in Jacob Ruysdael in the 17th century, as well as in Rubens.
The influence of Brueghel’s work on the landscape tradition can be seen in the 19th century, in the rural genre scenes of artists such as Gustave Courbert and Jean Francois Millet.
Despite his great influence on northern European landscape and genre painting, Brueghel went out of fashion for several centuries.
His popularity revives in the 20th century, when he is appreciated for his innovative compositions and deep human understanding.