With these gouaches in circular format, Hans Bol has created a pair of cheerful miniature landscapes capturing the seasonal delights of winter and summertime. Executed in brilliant colours with an extraordinary fine brush, and highlighted with touches of gold, these compositions exude a jewel-like charm. Conveniently fitting into the palm of a hand, they are meant to be enjoyed up-close.
In Bol’s representation of winter skaters enjoy themselves on a frozen moat surrounding a castle, as people on the shore look on. They are dressed warmly against the cold weather. There is no snow on the ground, but the gnarled, leafless willows surrounding the fortress and black crows sitting in the bare branches of the tall trees enhance the frosty atmosphere. The silhouette of a city is vaguely visible in the mist of the background.
In the depiction of summer we see a small village with a church amidst green meadows, overshadowed by tall trees. Two men on horseback, following a covered horse-drawn wagon, are entering the hamlet. People working and playing, as well as several enamoured couples walking arm in arm, populate the scene. The country road leads through the village into the distant green hills.
In both compositions, the artist demonstrates his masterly skill of incorporating all the characteristics of full-size landscapes – weather, atmosphere, and the illusion of distance – into a minuscule format.
Hans Bol was an extraordinary productive artist, and in order to keep his creations interesting while working more efficiently, he frequently re-utilized motifs from his personal stock of sketches, made from life (‘naar het leven’), which he had collected throughout his career and during his travels. Bol enhanced theses motifs with creations from his imagination “uyt den gheest’ (‘from the mind/ imagination’), a process that 17th century art historian Karel van Mander described in his Schilderboek.
In the present representation of summer, for example, the motif of the building
resting on stilts reappears in several other works by Bol, one of which is located the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The drawing also includes the motif of the covered coach followed by a man on horseback.
A Covered Wagon Traversing a Road Between Two Inns’
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash, over traces of black chalk,
signed and dated 1580
Compositions representing the four seasons or the twelve months of the year reoccur in Bol’s artistic repertoire throughout his career. A significant influence on him in this regard was the artists Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who was Bol’s contemporary. Bruegel had revived the topic, which originated in medieval manuscript illumination, by creating a monumental series dedicated to the twelve months in 1565. Shortly after he designed a series of prints of the four seasons in collaboration with the Antwerp printer Hieronymus Cock, but died before the project was completed. As Bruegel had only managed to produce the designs for spring and summer, Hieronymus Cock invited Hans Bol to finish the series, who then created the designs for fall and winter mirroring the style of Pieter Bruegel. The complete print series was eventually engraved by Pieter van der Heyden. Due to its success, Hans Bol continued to produce several series of prints, drawings and paintings dedicated to the seasons and the twelve months in the years to follow. Stylistically close to the present two gouaches is a series of twelve drawings in circular format by Bol, dedicated to the months of the years and dated 1580-81, which is today in the collection of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.
Hans Bol (1534–1593)
The month February (Pisces), circa 1580 -81
Pen and brown ink, brown wash, framing lines with the pen in brown ink, on a round piece of paper
Diameter: 14 cm
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen