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Niederländische Winterlandschaften 1550-1700: Bruegel, Avercamp und die Kleine Eiszeit

Steinsiepe, Klaus F.

English Title: Winter Landscapes in the Low Countries 1550-1700: Bruegel, Avercamp and the Little Ice Age

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Translation of abstract (English)

The ’Little Ice Age’ was a climate period with expanded glaciers, with oscillating climatic shifts, decreasing temperatures and frequent harsh winters lasting approx. from 1300 until 1830. The main reasons for this world-wide phenomenon were long-scale variations in Earth’s rotation (Milankovitch forcing: eccentricity, axial tilt and precession) leading to decreasing solar radiation in the northern hemisphere; diminished solar activity (less sunspots); and numerous intense volcanic eruptions. On the other hand, Flemish and Dutch winter landscape and ice scene paintings started with Bruegel the Elder around 1560, flourished in the first half of the 17th century and disappeared in its last decades.

This paper gives a short account of history and culture of the Low Countries and their ’Golden Age’, explains landscape painting and higlights the snow-and-ice paintings of two famous artists, Pieter Bruegel (the Elder, 1525-1569) and Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634). After a short description of climatic determinism, it questions a supposed connection between winter scenes and climate deterioration. Winter paintings in this period are regarded by some authors as ’iconographical representations of disaster’. However, paintings of snow and ice are geographically limited to the Low Countries and chronologically to a time period of 150 years or so. Hence, they cannot be linked to the so-called Little Ice Age which affected Northern Europe broadly, was a long-term phenomenon and had its most severe winters in the 18th century. Other arguments against a direct climatic impact on art are dealt with at great length.

Moreover, these winter landscapes and ice scenes are the result of a profound specialization in the Dutch art market for paintings in the 17th century, comparable to specializations in marines, different still lives and others. Furthermore, Dutch landscape painting, including winters, has never been ’realistic’, but did produce idealistic sceneries of an imagined territory. Winter landscapes and ice scenes of Bruegel and Avercamp as cover pictures on books dealing with “The Little Ice Age“ can therefore be regarded as a kind of climatic determinism.

Document type: Article
Date: 2020
Version: Primary publication
Date Deposited: 13 Mar 2020 14:34
Faculties / Institutes: Research Project, Working Group > Individuals
DDC-classification: Painting
Controlled Subjects: Bruegel, Pieter <de Oudere>, Avercamp, Hendrick, Winter <Motiv>, Kleine Eiszeit, Geschichte 1550-1700
Subject (classification): Artists, Architects
Countries/Regions: Benelux