The depiction of winter landscapes in Western art begins in the 15th century. Wintry and snowy landscapes are not seen in early European painting since most of the subjects were religious. Painters avoided landscapes in general for the same reason. The first depictions of snow began to occur in the 15th and 16th centuries. Paintings that feature snow as a theme are mostly landscapes, even if some of these works involve religious or even fantasy landscapes. Most of these winter landscapes in art history are plein-air depictions of winter scenes, using the quality of gray winter light to create the special winter atmosphere. Depiction of snow in Europe is essentially a northern European theme.
Early European painters generally did not depict snow since most of their paintings were of religious subjects. The first artistic representations of snow came in the 15th and 16th centuries. Because frequent snowfall is a part of winter in northern European countries, depiction of snow in Europe began first in the northern European countries.
Since the early 15th century, wintry scenes had been represented by artists in parts of large sculptural works on churches and even on a smaller scale in private devotional scripts such as the book of hours, a devotional collection of texts, prayers and psalms. These were often illuminated manuscripts such as Labours of the Months, a cycle of twelve paintings that illustrated the social life, the agricultural tasks, the weather, and the landscape for each month of the year. January and February were typically shown as snowy, as is February in the famous cycle of the Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, illustrated 1412–1416. Some snowy scenes also appear in a set of early 14th-century frescoes created by Master Wenceslas for the Bishop's Palace at Trento, showing people throwing snowballs at each other, and in a detail of Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Effects of Good Government in the City and Countryside (1337–39). At that time, landscapes had not yet developed as a genre in art, which explains the scarcity of winter scenes in medieval painting. Snow was not depicted in art except where it had a context, such as in the winter months of calendars.