At Antwerp the Scheldt is four hundred metres wide. A river that size does not often freeze over. In the mid sixteenth century, however, when the “Little Ice Age” reached its peak, it did just that again and again, and winter was a frequent motif in Netherlandish painting.
The Flemish painter Lucas Valckenborch – who late in life was active in Frankfurt – here assigns the viewer an elevated vantage point almost eye to eye with the birds in the branches of the trees. From the area seen close up at the front left, the space recedes towards the right in staggered fashion. Depending on the distance, the snowflakes vary in size, form and density. The silhouette of the commercial metropolis Antwerp can be made out in the background. The description of the weather event has a quality of atmospheric concentration; at the same time, the artist presents us with a portrayal of his society; the genteel and simple folk, idlers and workers, young and old are all lured by the ice. There are other pairs of opposites to be found in the painting as well: snow and ice are dramatically contrasted with fire. The benefit of fire for giving warmth and its destructive power are both demonstrated. And the viewer cannot help but become aware that ice is a surface for pleasurable romping, but also for slipping and falling.
Photo: Städel Museum – U. Edelmann – ARTOTHEK
61 × 82.5 cm
Inv. No. 1857