Winter Landscape with Numerous Figures on a Frozen River
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Jan Berents
Dutch, about 1723
Gouache on vellum, heightened with gold, laid down on panel
3 1/4 x 5 13/16 in.

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This miniature scene is cleverly composed to display both a vast sense of space, and a detailed view of life on the frozen canals. In the background, at right, the faraway towers of the Hague are visible. In the middle ground, wealthy citizens take sleigh rides, and line up to buy hot drinks from a vendor. In contrast with this, and the assorted frolicking dogs and children, the foreground features peasants hard at work cutting wood. Artist Jan Berents also creates atmospheric perspective with the considered placement of trees, flag poles, and church towers. At the base of the image, Berents adds his signature, and a reference to his unusual dual career as a mathematician.

This work is part of a long tradition of Dutch genre scenes. In particular, Berents' detailed landscape evokes those by an earlier Netherlandish artist, Pieter Bruegel. Much like Bruegel's figures, Berents' skaters have a somewhat comical air about them due to the extra long blades on their ice skates. Furthermore, his use of vellum, or fine-grained animal skin, his stippled technique, and the detailed portrayal of the winter season all evoke the work of the renowned Flemish miniature painter, Simon Bening.