A Jaunt in a Jawbone

Fun on the ice

By Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Ice Skating before the Gate of Saint George in Antwerp (1558) by Frans HuysMuseum Boijmans Van Beuningen

In the mid-16th century, when this print was made, Western Europe went through a cold period often described as the ‘Little Ice Age’. Many works of art depicting winter scenes were made. Here we can see afternoon fun on the ice.

Small children had sleds made from the lower jaw of a cow or horse, fitted with a board to sit on.

Skates were originally made from bone, but at the end of the Middle Ages iron blades were increasingly common.

Not everyone was a natural skater; can you see who’s having difficulty staying upright?

Here a friendly bystander helps someone out of a hole.

This man tries to stay upright by spreading his arms wide.

This woman has lost her balance. Everyone can see her backside because her skirts have flown over her head.

This has not gone unnoticed. People on the bank are laughing at her bare buttocks. This directs the viewer’s gaze to this scene.

In the background is Antwerp’s St George’s Gate. Built by order of Emperor Charles V, it was part of the new city wall erected between 1542 and 1553.

The gate is an early example of Renaissance style in the Low Countries. The building style harks back to Classical Antiquity. The columns in the façade and the symmetrical construction are typical.

The banderol has the inscription 'PLVS WLTR'. It is a reference to 'Plus Ultra' (Further Beyond), Emperor Charles V’s personal motto.
A number of coats of arms are depicted on the façade. Which do you recognize?

The coat of arms in the middle between the two lions shows the double-headed eagle. This was the symbol of the Holy Roman Empire.

On the round shield above the gate there is a castle with three towers – the coat of arms of Antwerp. There are usually two separate hands shown above the castle. They are missing here. But then, the shield in the print is only half a centimetre high.

The print perfectly captures the atmosphere of a day’s fun on the ice. The scene was so popular that it was reprinted in the 17th century.

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