The Gate On The River Scheldt

Photo courtesy The Metropolitan Museum Of Art; used for educational purposes.

Skating's depictions in visual art never fail to fascinate and the period engraving "Skating before the St. George's Gate, Antwerp" is no exception. The scene was painted by renowned Brabant artist and printmaker Pieter Bruegel the Elder and etched by Ioan Galle, the grandson of Haarlem born engraver Philip Galle. Varying sources conversely date the piece to either 1553 or 1558, so we'll go with the 1550's. It is an extraordinarily vintage depiction of figure skating at any rate! From an artistic perspective, Ger Luijten's book "Dawn Of The Golden Age" noted that this engraving's compositional structure "serves as yet another reminder of that master's (Bruegel's] continuing influence on seventeenth-century Dutch art." The engraving depicts solo and pairs skating and even one skater performing an outside spread eagle long before the move was ever described in any figure skating textbook in front of St. George II Gate on the River Scheldt in Antwerp, located in what was then the Duchy Of Brabant (now Belgium). 

What I particularly love about this piece isn't even the depiction itself but an accompanying inscription, written in Old Flemish. Translated and billed as "The Slipperiness Of Human Life" in the delightful 1972 book "Wonderful world of skates; seventeen centuries of skating" by Arthur Goodfellow, the inscription reads thusly in English:

"Skating on ice outside the walls of Antwerp,
Some slide hither, others hence, all have onlookers everywhere;
One trips, another falls, some stand upright and chat.

This picture also tells one how we skate through our lives,
And glide along our paths; one like a fool, another like a wise;
On this perishable earth, brittler than ice."

Profound and perceptive, these words from centuries past still very much resonate today and probably will in centuries to come.  

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":