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Paintings of the Little Ice Age

Updated on January 18, 2013

Climate Art

The climate on Earth changes periodically, this is a very well known phenomenon, considered controversial by some, supported by others, natural or induced by human activities. People were always aware of these climate changes, and the painters didn’t lose the opportunity to mirror them on canvas.The result was the beautiful paintings known and admired by the whole modern world, even if the images were rainy, cloudy, snowy or dark. Pieter Bruegel the Elder use the winter of 1565 as a source of inspiration in Hunters in the Snow, one of the most beloved paintings in art history.


According to William Burroughs, the Bruegel’s painting is one of the first snowy landscape in the European art. But it was not the only one, it was followed by The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow.

Bruegel the Elder was not the only one who put winter on canvas. A Dutch painter, Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634), was also impressed by the cold winter in the mid 1600s.

A Flemish painter, Jan van Eyck liked to paint different types of clouds. The paintings depicting clouds were analyzed by Hans Neuberger in an unusual 1970 study which took into consideration more than 10.000 paintings produced between 1400 and 1967. Of course, Neuberger didn’t intend to say how much of the cloudy landscape was related to the Little Ice Age and how much was related to the artistic phantasies.

The cloudy climate of English island could not be absent from European art. One of the most important English artists was Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), “the painter of light”, a Romantic painter which foggy paintings, as well as the striking sunsets are among the most beautiful of this kind.

In the same century, the Krakatoa volcanic eruption from the 1883 was mirrored in The Scream, Edvard Munch’s masterpiece and one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the world. According to the painter, he was inspired to paint this scene as he was walking. At a time, he looked up at the blood red sky and felt a “the scream of nature” moving through him.

And of course, we cannot forget about the frost fairs on the River Thames. Another Dutch painter, Abraham Hondius (1625-1691), captured one of these fairs which were not organized so often as we are tempted to believe. Apart from the cold mid 1600s, the Thames froze once every twenty or thirty years (until 1830s, when the London Bridge was replaced and it allowed the tide to sweep further inland. This is the reason why it is almost impossible now for the Thames to freeze.)


The bad news is that the global climate changes with or without our knowledge. The good news is that we are able to see the beautiful pat of this phenomenon.

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