Sunday, January 8, 2017

17C Ice Skating in Winter at the Local Canal

Jan Berents (Dutch, about 1679 - after 1733) Winter Landscape with Figures 1723

This miniature scene is cleverly composed to display both a vast sense of space, and a detailed view of life on the frozen canals. In the background, at right, the faraway towers of the Hague are visible. In the middle ground, many skate, & the wealthy take sleigh rides, and line up to buy hot drinks from a vendor. In contrast with this, and the assorted frolicking dogs and children, the foreground features peasants hard at work cutting firewood. Artist Jan Berents also creates atmospheric perspective with the considered placement of trees, flag poles, and church towers. At the base of the image, Berents adds his signature, and a reference to his unusual dual career. 

Although this is a 17C image, ice skating by young men is recorded in London in the 12C. The 1st English mention of ice skating is found in a biography of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Beckett written by his former clerk William FitzStephen around 1180, in his "description of the most noble city of London." The account reads: "when the great fenne or moore (which watereth the walles of the citie on the North side) is frozen, many young men play upon the yce, some striding as wide as they may, doe slide swiftly...some tye bones to their feete, & under their heeles, & shoving themselves by a little picked staffe, doe slide as swiftly as birde flyeth in the aire, or an arrow out of a crossbow. Sometime two runne together with poles, & hitting one the other, eyther one or both doe fall, not without hurt; some break their armes, some their legs, but youth desirous of glorie, in this sort exerciseth it selfe against time of warre..."