In the rustic courtyard of an Italian inn, a huntsman on a white horse, and several of his companions, refresh themselves. A multitude of hounds rest in the shadows; and the prize of the hunt, a deer, lies in the right foreground. Two huntsmen converse with a hostess-- perhaps regaling her with tales from the day's chase. On the balcony above, a washerwoman sets out laundry. At left, partly shrouded in shade, a woman serves two seated men. Above this trio, two pairs of tiny figures explore the upper reaches of the towering ruin behind the inn.
Nicolaes Berchem is best known for his imaginary Italianate landscapes. In these panoramic paintings, figures generally play a secondary role. By contrast, in The Return From the Hunt , Berchem focused on the interaction between figures and architectural setting rather than the landscape. The unusual vertical format showcases the artist's command of light. Light falling on the mounted horseman also illuminates the woman on the balcony as well as the figures on the left.
Hunters at rest was a popular subject among northern genre painters in the 1600s. In this painting, the pose of the man in blue, seen from the rear, quotes a well-known ancient sculpture of Hercules. Berchem may have seen this sculpture in person or copied it after an engraving.