Major works | Earthly & Spiritual Matters
Through the seasons
The Four Seasons are the fruit of a close collaboration between Pieter Bruegel and Jérôme Cock, a prints publisher in Antwerp. The four panels, engraved by Pieter van der Heyden, were not all designed by Bruegel for all that. This is because the project was beset with delays and, by the time of his death in 1569, Bruegel had only provided two drawings: Spring in 1565 (Albertina Graphic Arts Collection in Vienna) and Summer (Kunsthalle Department of Prints, Drawings and Photography in Hamburg) dated 1568. Not long after his death, Jérôme Cock tasked the landscape designer Hans Bol with drawing the two missing scenes, Autumn and Winter.
This series is in keeping with a longstanding tradition beginning in the Middle Ages: miniatures of the months and seasons which illustrated the calendars of books of hours. Bruegel nonetheless instilled a fresh inventiveness in this theme, for example in Summer, the bodies are astonishingly powerful and even thrust out of the very print frame – reinforcing the sense of depth.
The traditional activities specific to each season are shown: in Spring, March is symbolised by gardening (in the foreground), April by sheep shearing (further left towards the background) and May by the springtime festivals (on the right in the background). In Summer, June is depicted by fruit picking among the tall trees in the middle background, July by the bringing in of the hay in the distance on the left and right and August by the wheat harvest in the foreground.
Autumn and Winter, drawn by Hans Bol, follow the same principle: the characters attend to the typical occupations of each season (slaughtering the pig in autumn, skating on the frozen lake in winter); but the style applied is different, more reminiscent of mediaeval tradition.