Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters was painted in 1608, when the Dutch painter Hendrick Avercamp (1585 – 1634) was supposedly living in Amsterdam. There, he depicted the city life during winter, when the canals would freeze and its dwellers would use them as ice rinks, skating and playing kolf, a Dutch game very similar to ice hokey.
That’s what we can see in Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, a Dutch community gathered on the frozen canal, coming from all walks of life. Some are wearing elegant clothes, enjoying their skating, while others are getting on with their daily chores, such as fishing, carrying reeds or getting water for the brewery.
The more you look at the painting (click for a larger picture, in which you can zoom in), the more anecdotes and snippets of life start unraveling, pulling you onto the ice rink. You can notice, for instance, the cheekiness of two men on the left side, showing off their buttocks. Or the man, in the midground, urinating. You’ll also notice Avercamp’s graffiti-like signature on a building in the right foreground, as Haenricus Av.
Some argue that Avercamp wanted to paint a moralizing tale, showing the slipperiness of the human condition. The ice rink can very well mean the circle of life, with the ominous signs of death in the left lower corner – crows and a dog feasting on the carcass of a horse – as a memento mori (“remember that you will die”, in Latin). But I would rather see it as a joyous community gathering celebrating life, in spite of the blistering cold and life’s hardships.
On that note, I hope you’re enjoying a wonderful Christmas with your loved ones. Happy Holidays!