Dose of Art #201: Hendrick Avercamp – Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters (c. 1608)

Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634) was born in Amsterdam, but lived in Kampen (a Duch city that was part of the by-then dwindling Hanseatic Leaguefrom 1614 until his death in 1634. He was referred to as “the Kampen Mute”, so we assume that he was deaf and dumb. Avercamp had been taught in Amsterdam by Pieter Isacksz, and specialized in winter landscapes. This painting, dated around 1608, is an excellent example of his winter scenes. It is a typical “look-and-discover” painting with many details that reveal themselves only when you look real carefully.

The first thing you notice is all the people on the ice who -each in their own way- enjoy the winter. Some skate, some work, some play ice-hockey, and others just watch what is going on around them. When we zoom in on different parts of the painting we see some lovely details.

These obviously wealthy citizens use the ice to socialize, ignoring the beggar on the left who puts his hand out for some change. His bleak appearance contrasts starkly with the colorful clothes of the citizens.

 

Meanwhile, on the middle right, a different kind of drama unfolds. You see people raising their hands (you can almost hear their yells) because a man fell through the ice.

But there’s more going on than just winter-fun and drama. If you look at the fringes there are some strange details.

On the right, we can see two people taking a shit, their bottoms turned towards us. Two other men are watching, one from within the house on the top, the other standing on the porch, raising his hand. Also, note the 17th-century graffiti on the wood below the man with the raised arm.

 

In the bottom right, we see the carcass of a dead cow with a dog and crows feasting on it. For us, it seems like a weird choice to add to a winter scene like this.

 

There are many more details to be found (just zoom the big picture), but for now, we end with this detail on the right. We see a shed with some graffiti and Hendrick’s signature. In the foreground, an ice fisher returns with his catch, an ax in his hand, and his long fishing spear resting on his shoulder. It’s not entirely clear what the man at the tree is doing; is he looking into the hole, or is he just steadying himself on the slippery ice?

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