The drawn depictions of the seasons by Pieter Brueghel the Elder go back to medieval models from books of hours, which focus on the typical rural activities of a respective month. Conversely, in his Times of the Year from 1565—The Gloomy Day, Hunters in the Snow, The Return of the Herd (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. no. GG 1837, 1838, 1018), Haymaking (Prague, Lobkowicz Collection) and The Corn Harvest (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, inv. no. 19.164)—it is largely the landscapes and the people inhabiting the pictures that convey the pictorial idea. Brueghel completed only two works from his series of drawings dealing with the four seasons: Spring in 1565 and, a year before his death, Summer in 1568 (Hamburger Kunsthalle, inv. no. 21758). In the end, Brueghel’s Antwerp publisher, Hieronymus Cock, issued the group of engravings, for which Hans Bol supplied the missing Fall and Winter, in 1570. The overall execution has been attributed to Pieter van der Heijden.
Three different zones of garden and field work are shown on top of each other in Spring; sheep shearing and springtime merrymaking are joined together in a single section of the landscape. As opposed to the richly detailed character of his early allegories, Brueghel’s compositions from about 1565 reveal a new form of monumentality, combined with a strict organization of space. The poses and three-dimensional character of the large figures of men working in the foreground have been attributed to Italian influences. These figures represent a pronounced contrast to the others, who become drastically smaller in a diagonal configuration into the depth. At the same time, Brueghel’s unmatched mastery in working with pen is demonstrated here. He attained a seemingly infinite range of tones and nuances in the exciting alternation between long fine lines and tiny strokes or dots. (Marian Bisanz-Prakken, 2013)