Bruegel’s “Hunters In The Snow” in the film “Melancholia”

Much has already been written on the artworks featured in Lars von Trier’s new film “Melancholia”. One of them, in fact the first painting you’ll see in the film’s prologue, has a possible local connection and, if so, an interesting feature.
Viel wurde schon geschrieben über die Kunststücke in den Film “Melancholia”. Eines davon, das erste Gemälde das man im Film sieht, hat eine unbewiesene aber sehr interessante Verbindung mit Innsbruck.

“Hunters in the Snow”, Peter Bruegel (or Brueghel) the Elder, 1565.
Image from

One Professor Wilhelm Fischer of Innsbruck wrote an academic treatise a while back, maintaining that Bruegel, on his return trip from Italy, must have come through Innsbruck and made sketches of the landscape. In his opinion this is clearly the village of Amras, the Sill River, and the Inn Valley beyond (with some artistic changes taken into account. The valley is a tad too narrow so the other settlements are not exactly in the right place, for example. And our mountains are not that pointy.)

Der Innsbrucker Professor Wilhelm Fischer behauptet, daß Bruegel auf seiner Rückreise aus Italien in Innbruck weilte, und machte Skizzen von der Landschaft. Laut Fischer ist das Dorf im Bild offensichtlich Amras, mit der Sill und dem Inntal im Hintergrund (man muß aber dann manche künstlerische Freiheiten einkalkulieren — das Tal ist zu eng, die andere Siedlungen sind nicht genau, wo sie hingehören sollen. Und die umringenden Berge sind nicht so spitz.

If this is so, then that skating pond may well be the lost and forgotten Amraser See — remember the Amraser See? It vanished some decades ago and now the DEZ shopping mall stands in its place. What an apt subject for the film.
I doubt Lars von Trier had even heard of this, perhaps he used the painting among others to show melancholy (the dejected hunters and even their sorry-looking hounds) being confronted by both gaiety (villagers out and about)  and disaster (according to this blogger the farmhouse on the river has just had an explosion. In any event, it is burning.) Like Justine’s arrival at her wedding reception, you might say. We could continue into the theme of Death As Bridegroom but that’s beyond the scope of my knowledge.

Wenn dieses Gemälde das Dorf Amras zeigt, dann ist der Teich im Bild der verschwundene, vergessene Amraser See, wo jetzt der Einkaufzentrum “DEZ” steht. Herr von Trier weiß davon sicher nichts; vielleicht stellt das Bild für ihn eine richtige Melancholie dar,  (die niedergeschlagene Jäger sogar ihre Hünde),  die mit Fröhlichkeit (die Dorfleute) und Pech (ein brennendes Haus) konfrontiert wird. Man vergleicht ihr Ankommen mit Justine’s Ankommen an das Hochzeitsfest (im Film).

Considering the film’s theme of everything going under, the inclusion of a painting which itself shows something already lost and forgotten is interesting (to probably nobody but me, but hey, it’s my blog and I get to write what I want.) A lost world inside a lost world.

Ein Bild von einem verschwundenen Ort, in einer Geschichte über das kommende Verschwinden unserer Welt. Eine verlorene Welt in einer verlorenen Welt.

More about the artworks featured in the film here (English) and hier (deutsch.)

3 thoughts on “Bruegel’s “Hunters In The Snow” in the film “Melancholia”

  1. Referring to the “burnig house” I actually think the picture shows a chimney on fire. In winter the penetration of condensate into the chiney walls might cause such a fire. Besides this technical detail this house could also be the base for an other film scene – in Tarkowsky´s “Offret”
    The quite distant viewpoint of camera is somehow similar to Brueghels “detail” an makes the impression more frightening. I feel also strong parallels to two scenes of accidents. One in a film showing a schoolbus accident (it was “The Sweet Hereafter”, due to this picture although not so consequently “silent” as Brueghel), and the other ist a text on the collapse of “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (I don´t know itf its from Wilder, but the impressive detail of this text I remeber was the almost complete silcence of the collapse, with people falling down without screams.


  2. “Chimney fire” was the first thing I thought of — but then I bowed to the “art experts”.

    “this house could also be the base for an other film scene – in Tarkowsky´s “Offret”” — it looks like Tarkowsky tried to recreate the Amraser See too! 😉

    The “Sweet Hereafter” clip is spooky in its distance — the viewer feels that helplessness but cannot look away. But I did not get an eerie or frightening impression from the Bruegel. The darkness seem like typical winter weather in northern Europe, and nothing else looks particularly ominous, even the fire — unless… perhaps the hunters are not returning from a hunt, but *commencing* one — to “bag” a few villagers…


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