Tokyo, Nihon Bashi Shirakiya, Fine Art Exhibition, April 1957.
The present composition derives from a compostion by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, dated 1565, formerly in the collection of F. Delporte and gifted to the Musées des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (for a reproduction see F. Grossmann, Pieter Brueghel. The Paintings, London, p. 119, no. 114).
Pieter Brueghel the Younger, and his busy studio produced many copies and variations of Brueghel the Elder’s season and peasant pictures to fulfill a large demand; but this is a particularly beautiful and atmospheric example. It clearly demonstrates how well he understood his father’s compositions and is rendered with a sensitivity and spontaneity that elevates it above the quality of a mere reproduction.
This is one of the compositions by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, that was most frequently copied and his son repeated the composition several times during his career. The earliest known dated version by Pieter Brueghel the Younger is dated 1601 and is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The latest dated version is dated 1626 and was formerly in the collection of the Baron Coppée, Brussels. The present work bears a plaque on the frame that mentions that the picture was signed and dated. These are no longer visible. For these and the other versions by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, see G. Marlier, Pierre Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels, 1969, pp. 242-7. Marlier also after studying the many versions identified the village depicted as Pede-Ste-Anne in Brabant.
Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s, naturalistic treatment of both light and atmosphere in his landscapes was markedly more advanced than any artists of his time and was highly influential to the output of his son. These winter scenes together with Pieter Breughel the Elder’s, Seasons are unique in 16th century landscape painting in that they achieve a rare combination of nature and vision, which had a profound impact on the development of sixteenth and seventeenth century Netherlandish landscape painting and print making.
It has been suggested that the underlying subject of this picture is the precariousness of life, which is marked by the birds’ total ignorance to the threat of the trap that awaits them. This notion is furthered by the image of the carefree skaters playing upon the fragile ice seemingly unconcerned by the potential danger of it cracking. The exact meaning of this popular scene is not entirely clear although the deliberate allusions to the brevity and transience of life would have been an intentional moralizing reference following in the tradition of his father. There has also been speculation made that the bird trap alludes to the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands at this time. Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s, Bird Trap in Brussels is dated 1565, which is only one year before the popular iconoclastic uprising against the Spanish authorities. The Duke of Alba was sent to repress the risings, done in a very high minded and sometimes brutal manner. The leitmotif of the Bird Trap has often been interpreted as a parallel to the repressive Spanish regime that continued to ensnare the people of the Netherlands throughout the lifetime of both Pieter Brueghel the Elder and his son.
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