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Tony Magistrale: Thinking about Brueghel on a Sunday Afternoon

From a chair in a corner of my house

color reproductions of Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s paintings

take me back to that famous Saal in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum,

thirty years ago across a warped wooden floor

so old it creaked with each step.

Like visiting a secular temple: the urge to knock 

for permission to enter before crossing its broad threshold.  

On the walls hung twelve of the world’s Brueghels,

including my favorite—Hunters in the Snow

Brueghel painted winter, miniature topographies 

where men and women always wear hats

and huddle in small groups under blankets 

and heavy vestments with hoods,

frozen by weather and in time by paint.  

They faced winter every day and had only fire pits 

and the will to survive on their side,

many often pictured gathering wood,

a constant and vital effort to maintain the fires.  

Despite the ice-bound world outside my own winter window,

how much colder it appears there

in the teal-tinted landscapes they inhabit.

Closing the book on their far away strangeness,

I feel winter sealing itself, embracing my house, 

its bright sunlight indifferent to heat, fading 

gracefully, quietly, south.  

Copyright 2023 Tony Magistrale

Tony Magistrale is professor of English at the University of Vermont. He is the author of four books of poetry, the most recently published is titled More Fun Than Pretty (Moon Pie Press, 2021).

Hunters In The Snow (Winter) By Pieter Brueghel The Elder  (Netherlandish, 1526/30-1569. 1565, oil on panel, 117 x 162 cm (46.1 x 63.8 in), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

4 comments on “Tony Magistrale: Thinking about Brueghel on a Sunday Afternoon

  1. Dennis Mahoney
    January 3, 2023

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful poem! This is my favorite Breughel painting as well, Tony, after first seeing it as a high-school student studying German in Vienna back in 1966. I bought a reproduction of it in Greenwich Village in 1968 and hung it in my college dorm room; now it’s in my study here in Burlington.


    • Tony Magistrale
      January 3, 2023

      Dennis: I have a similar memory and reproduction of the painting that dates back to my college days! So glad you enjoyed our mutual re-visitation.


  2. Nancy Krzton
    January 1, 2023

    What a pleasure to see Tony’s name as the author of this lovely poem. We went to undergraduate school together. My maiden name was Nancy Wechsler, in case Tony sees this. Tony evinced a seriousness and passion for English back then that was notable. I am glad to see that he still exists and is writing good poetry. Nancy Wechsler Krzton

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    • Tony Magistrale
      January 1, 2023

      Thank you, Nancy. What a joy to hear from you again! My best to you for the new year. Go Gators!

      Liked by 1 person

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