Understand this piece of Art to be a better Writer

Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565.

It’s one of the most famous and influential landscape paintings of its time.

Take your time and really give it a review before you move forward with the rest of the article. This isn’t an aptitude test, so no need to make a list.

But take note, what does it make you think and feel?




This painting depicts the harsh conditions of a European winter.

The foreground hunters return from the hunt with only 1 fox. It’s a bad haul. Notice their heads all hang low. Combined with the muted colors, there is a distinct sense of failure or hardship.

The dogs are not playful or gay. Like their masters, their heads hang low… they are exhuasted.

The only spark of brightness comes from the left hand peasants removing the skin of a pig in preparation for a roast. The spark of fire associated with food complimenting the theme of the hunt and the single fox. The importance of food for the winter months is dominant in the painting.

Also notice, that the procurement and preparation of food is a group effort.

The valley in the background is a landscape of frozen ponds and snow covered structures. Bare trees litter the landscape. A colorless place where the people are not individuals, but collective silhouettes.

The mountain foothills on the left left showcase grey, barren trees. The right, harsh, jagged peaks.

The flatlands beyond are frozen, both in season and in time.

The entire scene is characterized by Bruegel’s cold colour scheme of muted greens, blues, and white  against the dark browns and blacks of the trees, birds, dogs and people.

It is a gloomy feel of a season of hibernation, sleep and death.

Compositionally, the trees on the left frame the entire painting, with the hunters path down the hill into the valley leads the viewer.

The line of trees and houses which begin in the left foreground and descend in a row down the hill – develop depth of field.

A second line of trees supports a linear perspective enhance that further brings the viewer’s eye into the center of the painting.

The whole picture is effectively structured around two main viewing diagonals left-to-right line of hunters, trees and left-hand edge of the frozen ponds/fields; and the right-to-left line formed by the trees running along the base of the hills and peaks.

Detail fill the scene.

  • The tree branches ‘dusted’ with fine snow.
  • The Inn sign inscribed with the words “Under the Stag” and an image of Saint Eustace, hanging precariously.
  • Figures tobogganing, curling and spinning tops in the ponds.
  • The firemen extinguishing a chimney fire.
  • People shooting birds.
  • The watermill with its frozen water wheel.
  • The village church steeples standing out in the far distance.

Bruegel’s landscape has religious significance. The scene shows that man himself is a powerless entity, of no consequence, who is at the mercy of the natural seasons and rhythms of the year.

The implication is, that only faith in the Creator and the natural (divine) order can bring us meaning and comfort.

One well versed in classical art, could probably go on and on and on.

The original painter, could probably go on and on, even longer. (Thanks to visual-arts-cork.com for the breakdown.)

Here’s the take away;

Did you get all that when you paused to take a good look at this famous painting?

Probably not.

You didn’t notice all the minute details individually, but you did notice the impact of the piece as a whole, of all the details working together. And that combined synergy makes the painting one of the best of its time.

The point is great art, whether its actual visual art, or writing, consists of a million different deliberate choices.

Arguable the best writing, is when you never even notice those decisions, but instead, enjoy the excellence and effectiveness of the story as a whole.

This is the power of proper structure and fundamental in a narrative.

They are the decisions the reader doesn’t see… unless they were never made. ▪

About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S.  Visit NickMacari.com for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.