Fair Weather Pleasures in Early Modern Europe
In the early fifteenth through eighteenth centuries—the period often called the Early Modern era—artists illustrated outdoor activities of the temperate season in different modes. These included genre scenes (scenes of daily life), landscapes, topographic images, and country house views. This selection of such images allows for comparison between the leisure activities of elite society and those of the working class, in works from the geographic areas of modern Italy, the Netherlands, France, and England. The purposes of these images varied. Serving the Medici court in Florence and Louis XIV in France, respectively, Stefano della Bella and Pierre LePautre immortalized the hydraulic marvels of garden fountains for propaganda purposes—to spread images of the costly luxuries enjoyed by these princes. Jacques Callot illustrated the pleasures of the stag hunt for a public eager for images of aristocratic leisure. In the Netherlands, David Vinckboons carried this sort of imagery into realms of fantasy, portraying women bathing in a secluded garden with multiple fountains.
The pleasures of working-class people portrayed by Pieter Bruegel and Sebastian Vrancx include fishing, bathing in the river, and lovemaking in the fields, all in the midst of continuing agricultural work. Callot and William Hogarth illustrated fairs in images that allow comparisons to be made between these meeting places for various social classes in Italy and in the North. They reveal a world of popular entertainment and fairgoers from far-flung locations crossing paths. In an era when Europe was plunged into the Little Ice Age (from roughly the fourteenth through the mid-nineteenth century), people from all walks of life rejoiced in the mild summer weather and celebrated its seasonal pleasures.
x1938-61 Solicitudo Rustica (Rustic Cares), ca. 1555–56
y1940-413 Summer Landscape with Figures
x1946-313 The Anglers, ca. 1647
x1934-327 The Fair at Impruneta, 1620
x1934-454 Village Fair, 1685
x1934-233 May at Xeuilley, 1624
x1988-29 Southwark Fair, 1733–34
2008-359 Women Bathing in a Classical Arcade
x1934-325 La Grande Chasse (The Stag Hunt), ca. 1619–20
x1985-122 The Allee and Water Jets at Pratolino, 1653