Little Ice Age – Winter Delights Before the Catastrophe
At the end of November 1618, a comet travels for weeks in the sky above the Holy Roman Empire, so large and bright that people can even see it with their naked eyes during the day. Like every major natural phenomenon, they interpret it as a heavenly sign – and it terrifies them. The Gospel of Luke provides confirmation: it is a punishment from God. And indeed, there have already been omens of great disaster. For decades, icy winters, plague and epidemics have been spreading, and a war that will rage for 30 years has just begun.
Starting in the second half of the 16th century, a cold spell—which is to influence the lives of many generations—holds the world in its grip. Temperatures drop by an average of two degrees Celsius, ocean currents change and the weather is capricious with long cold winters, storms and rainy summers. In the Alps, glaciers destroy mountain villages, in Northern Europe the waterways freeze over and cold and rain lead to poor harvests. Europe is stuck in a winter famine, and the situation is soon to be exacerbated by plague and the Thirty Years’ War.
At first, however, the Little Ice Age presents itself from its picturesque side with snow landscapes and winter pleasures, which fascinate artists in the Netherlands in particular. Ice-skaters, ice-fishermen or strollers populate the frozen bodies of water in their paintings and people trudge through the snow. Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634) is considered the most famous winter painter. “The Mute of Kampen”, as the deaf-mute Dutchman is also known, brings the Little Ice Age to life in his paintings. He fails, however, to document a remarkable event: the comet which appears in the sky during Advent 1618 and which people interpret according to the Gospel of Luke as an omen of one of the cruelest punishments: hunger, misery and the Thirty Years’ War.