The castle of Muiden, seen here from the north-east, is about seven miles east of Amsterdam at the entry of the Vecht river into the Zuider Zee. It probably dates from the 14th century and today looks much as it appears in the painting. In the 17th century it was the residence of the Dutch poet and historian Pieter Cornelisz. Hooft. Under his ownership the castle became the gathering place for a circle of the most eminent Dutch poets and scholars, the so-called 'Muiderkring'. The castle is frequently mentioned in Dutch poetry of the time.
Elena Greer: Yes, that’s right. It was a Dutch game that was called ‘kolf’ and it’s thought to be the predecessor of modern-day golf and it was played in a very similar way on dry land and on ice. The Dutch were absolutely fanatical about it and in fact they played it so much that it had to be banned from city centres to the outskirts of towns, because as you can imagine it was rather dangerous and basically involved hitting a wooden or sheepskin ball filled with animal hair, very densely packed, with a large wooden or iron-headed club at a target within a minimum number of strokes. So, as you can see, it resembled modern day golf very much.
Miranda Hinkley: I think a similar game was popular here and famous in London, and in fact there’s a famous London street which is named after it.
Elena Greer: That’s right. In fact, the street known as Pall Mall was used for a version of this game – the French version known as ‘jeu de maille’ – because the length of the street really lent itself to hitting a ball at great speed and chasing after it. That’s why the street gained its name, Pall Mall.
Miranda Hinkley: And actually the weather dates these paintings to a very specific time that we can recognise.
Elena Greer: That's right. In fact, the 17th century was a period of incredibly harsh winters for the Dutch; in fact, two out of three winters brought freezing weather and lots of snow. So really the Dutch artists found this a great challenge and were experimenting with the possibilities of depicting the Dutch people at play and at work on the ice, but also the beautiful effects and the natural world as it was covered with snow and ice.
From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Two, December 2006