The Hunt in the Forest (c1465-70) by Paolo Uccello in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
A crowd of hunters gather in secluded part of an unknown forest, mounted on horseback, dressed in red and black. Dogs scurry into the distance with reckless abandon, continuing their frantic search for the kill. Above the beautiful and almost ornate canopy, the sky in deep blue, possibly that of daybreak. The unevenness and manic randomness of the animals and hunters, gives one the impression of a frenzied chase within the darkest depths of the forest.
Perhaps they have been chased by an unknown quantity until the break of dawn and are attempting to avoid disorientation by following the river on the right of the picture. Another possibility is that the group lost their way and naturally panic has descended into rabid madness. Perhaps they have been trapped within the bleakness for days, who knows?
As the dogs rush into the darkness, some of the men appear to hold back, as if a moment of clarity has been reached, momentarily calming their frenetic charge into the abyss. One of the hunters in bright red leans over backwards to rein in his horse, another in black raises his hand to stop the pursuit.
What have these individuals seen?
Could it be that a way out of the forest has been found, freeing them from the perplexity of their surroundings moments before dawn gives way to daybreak?
For definite, the hunters have seen something that has stopped them in their tracks, and soon all the rest of the group will see what they have seen, for good or ill. Their pause in the forests depths leaves one with an empty feeling.
There is an emptiness in the painting, a dark an unknown reality is about to be revealed and what it is, we can only speculate. The forest could represent the dark void of the mind in distressing times, and the hunters/dogs movements the way we manically live in our own heads in times of distress. The hunter pulling up the horse and the other holding up his hands, has noticed something and perhaps this is a way out from the madness that they have been actively engaged in.
The hunters have walked through a dark and sinful place, just like we all have felt at points in our lives. They may have found a way out from the void, and into a place of light and sanity.
There are lesson to be learned from this great painting.