This snowy scene reveals Adriaen van Stalbemt’s homage to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, recalling his innovative winter landscapes of the 1560s, notably Hunters in the Snow and The Bird Trap. With the ongoing Little Ice Age across Europe, the popularity of this pictorial tradition was unabated well into the seventeenth century. Despite their popularity, winter landscapes by Stalbemt are rare in his oeuvre.
Born in 1585, Adriaen van Stalbemt moved at the age of six with his Protestant family to Middelburg, were he very likely received his artistic training. He later returned to his hometown, probably after the proclamation of the Twelve-year Truce (1609-1621), becoming a master in Antwerp’s St. Luke's Guild around 1609 and a dean in 1618-1619. Although many details of his life remain enigmatic, he is documented as having spent almost a year in England (1633-34), where he painted two views of Greenwich with King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, which are still in the Royal Collection. He died in Antwerp in 1662 at the age of 82. Stalbemt worked in various styles that convey the influences of many of the leading artists of his day, among them Jan Breughel I, Hendrick van Balen, Paul Bril and Adam Elsheimer, to whom a group of paintings by Stalbemt were once attributed.
As Stalbemt's style was so eclectic throughout his career, it is difficult to determine when the present winter landscape was executed. Moreover, he rarely dated his works. However, it is likely to have been painted in Antwerp and the coherent composition and the meticulous brushwork, particularly evident in the detailed facades of the houses, point to a mature style. The panel may have been part of a series of the four seasons. A signed and indistinctly dated [164(?)4] panel of nearly the same dimensions representing summer is in Leipzig. It may also have served as an independent picture given the popularity of snowy scenes.
The composition is articulated with a diagonal path and winding stretches of frozen water, inviting the beholder to explore the scene. The thatched cottages of the village are covered with a heavy blanket of snow. Smoke curls up from the chimneys in the crisp cold air. A figure with a horse-drawn carriage passes by a gated farmstead, a few other figures on the path ahead curving to the left and disappearing behind the meticulously rendered house. To the right a huntsman fires a shot from behind a tree trunk, and two other huntsmen look on while the crows fly off. In the further distance skaters can be seen on the ice between willows separating acres. A large church building and its steeple rise above the farmhouses in the heart of the village.