• Hendrick Avercamp was one of the most popular painters of the “Dutch Golden Age,” a time period (around the 17th century) when art, science, and trade flourished in the Netherlands.
     
    Avercamp, who was most likely deaf, specialized in painting winter scenes, when Dutch citizens enjoyed working and socializing on the country’s many frozen canals and rivers.
     
    “Winter Landscape with Skaters” (1608) is a typically lovely example of Avercamp’s style. He uses formal artistic techniques and rich individual scenes to paint a picture of an entire community
     
    Three major techniques create the illusion of space and depth in the painting. First, Avercamp has designed his painting as a triangle—the wide canal narrows as it disappears into the background at the top of the canvas. Second, the frosty landscape eventually blends into the white, wintry clouds in the background. Finally, the figures in the foreground (bottom of the canvas) are painted in precise detail, while the smaller figures in the background are mere sketches.
     
    The incredible variety of individual scenes makes “Winter Landscape with Skaters” a slice-of-life depiction of the Netherlands in the 17th century. Women and men, young and old, rich and poor all mix and mingle in the sunny, snowy scene.
     
    Instructional Ideas
     
    Consult National Geography Standard 15.3 (4th grade): How physical systems affect human systems: People adapt to the conditions of the physical environment.
    • Discuss how people adapt to seasonal changes in the physical environment. Changes might be reflected by:
      • clothing
      • housing
      • food
      • recreation
      • transportation
    • Questions in the “Questions” tab explore some ways the physical environment and human systems in “Winter Landscape with Skaters” would change with the seasons.
    1. How would the physical environment in “Winter Landscape with Skaters” be different in a spring or summer setting?

      Answers will vary!

      • Ice would be liquid water, and the canal would likely be full of boats carrying people and goods.
      • Trees and other vegetation would be in bloom.
      • The horizon would be clear. The blue sky would be a stark contrast to the rich browns and greens of the earth.
    2. How would people’s clothes, transportation, and technology change in a spring or summer landscape?

      Answers will vary! People would definitely wear fewer layers. Clothing would also be made of lighter fabrics, with fewer people wearing heavy hats and gloves. People would also be wearing cloth or leather shoes, not ice skates!

       

      An example of a transportation change might be the use of boats to navigate the canal instead of sleds or ice skates.

       

      An example of a technological change might be that fishers would not have to use axes to access the flowing water of the canal.

    3. Art can often sometimes provide historians and scientists with clues about past climate and landscape. What clues do you think Avercamp offers about the Dutch winter of 1608? How do you think scientists would investigate these clues?

      It was very cold! In fact, you don’t need to be a climatologist—just a person living in the Netherlands—to realize that today, Dutch canals and rivers rarely freeze over this completely.

       

      Climatologists have determined the winter of 1608 was not a freakish freeze. They compare paintings like Avercamp’s with other sources, such as written records kept by medieval meteorologists, tree rings, and ice cores that record snowfall and precipitation over thousands of years. Together, these sources support the idea of a medieval “Little Ice Age” that cooled the Northern Hemisphere from the 16th through the 19th centuries.

  • “Winter Landscape with Skaters” is a community portrait packed with individual scenes. Use our zoom feature (+ button) to see if you can spot these details:
    • little girl running to meet her father
    • skates with curled-up toes (a sign of luxury and wealth)
    • men carrying long fishing poles for ice-fishing
    • crows eating the rotting carcass of a cow
    • man who fell face-down on the ice
    • horse-drawn sledges (horses had to have special, sharp winter shoes in order to navigate the ice without slipping!)
    • richly dressed women ignoring a poor beggar
    • the artist’s signature (HAenricus Av)
    • man sitting down to put on his skates
    • man carrying a sheath of winter wheat
    • boy in a sledge pushed by his mother
    • onion-shaped dome of a church or town hall
    • man hacking a hole in the ice for ice-fishing
    • four men holding each other’s waists in a “line” of skaters
    • Dutch flag
    • people playing kolf—a popular combination of hockey and golf
    • fishing net hung up for the winter season
    • boat seeming to “sail” across the ice (based on a real Dutch vessel!)
    • someone’s bare bottom!
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    canal Noun

    artificial waterway.

    canvas Noun

    heavy, woven cloth.

    community Noun

    group of organisms or a social group interacting in a specific region under similar environmental conditions.

    deaf Adjective

    unable to hear.

    depict Verb

    to illustrate or show.

    dozen Noun

    a group of 12.

    Dutch Adjective

    coming from or having to do with the Netherlands (Holland).

    flourish Verb

    to thrive or be successful.

    frost Noun

    thin coat of ice covering objects when the dew point is below freezing.

    Encyclopedic Entry: frost
    illusion Noun

    plan or occurrence that creates a false belief.

    interact Verb

    to work with or meet.

    landscape Noun

    the geographic features of a region.

    Encyclopedic Entry: landscape
    mingle Verb

    to mix or combine with.

    mute Noun

    person who doesn't speak.

    precise Adjective

    exact.

    slice-of-life Phrase

    natural or real representation of everyday experiences.

    specialize Verb

    to study, work, or take an interest in one area of a larger field of ideas.

    technique Noun

    method of doing something.

    trade Noun

    buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

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