The Adoration of the Magi in a Winter Landscape - Bruegel the Elder
We can all relate to a winter landscape now and we can all relate to crowds and the Christ Child but this painting by Bruegel the Elder is unique. The Adoration of the Magi in a Winter Landscape (1563). According to art historians this is the first European painting to depict snowflakes. that being said in the time period in which this and many other winter scenes were painted was consider a "Little Ice Age" as the weather was severe and cold. The term "Little Ice Age" was originally the phrase was used to refer to Earth’s most recent 4,000-year period of mountain-glacier expansion and retreat. It was during this time that the rivers froze so solid marketplaces were set up on them. The effect of the cold on trees was also unique in that it produced wood that allowed Antonio Stradivari to make his famous violins. Famines became more common as did illness and suicide rates, riots across Europe.
The religious beliefs of the time allowed for much superstition and pagan practices. Although this was toward the end of the period of the reformation, Martin Luther and his 95 occurred in 1517 we see the terrible rise of persecution and blaming the other for the severe weather. "On 2 December 1562 in the small southwestern German town of Wiesensteig, twenty women were burned at the stake for allegedly causing a hailstorm four months earlier that destroyed many crops in the vicinity. They were also accused of blasphemy, cannibalistic infanticide, and robbing children of their ‘holy baptism.’ During the following year the city’s lord, Count Ulrich of Helfenstein, approved the burning of forty-three more witches, reviving witch panics after they had lain dormant for over sixty years. Once begun, the great European witch-hunts would consume thousands of women and men for their alleged participation in diabolical acts, such..." Eradicating the Devil's Minions: Anabaptists and Witches in Reformation Europe, 1535–1600, Gary K. Waite
So we see here how the culture, the cultures response to weather affected this painter.
So we must look briefly at what God's word has to say about this world, the fact that God is sovereign but Satan is allowed to be the god of this world for a time. In Job we see the Accuser whom we assume is Satan is allowed to use the weather, wind, lightning to alter Job's life. Now to what extent this is still true or was true relatively recently in 1560 or so we don't know and we should not fear it.
As we look into the window of this painting with some knowledge of the artist and of the time it was painted we can get a feel for the moments captured in paint, as people struggle to survive under the harsh winter. Look at the pace of the people, slow and beat down from the prolonged cold as they file slowly toward the Christ Child. Across the way a man moving a kettle or pot. Further back a man with a dog and a bag on his back, further back still we see two donkeys with loads on their backs. There are two buildings perhaps a church to the right and people seem to be heading towards the other building to the far left. And then in between the two buildings soldiers stand watching. In the foreground near the manger people present gifts as a man stoops over to wipe off his rifle. Just was we close schools, and other businesses when a storm strikes these people with really nothing much in terms of material goods to cope with the weather have learned to hunker down. Today the pandemic has brought to bear the reality we also are not in charge of weather, viruses actually not much at all. The Manger is if you look to the left obscured by the crowd, by the weather. The world's rebellion in sin, refusing to recognize our Lord continues in this painting, this moment of time, they have no need for him as he is relegated to the sidelines. Yet the Lord that we relegate to the sidelines is at work in complete control, in our lives and the world, let us be thankful!