Earth abides: the ploughman ploughs. Trading vessels go about their commercial business. Life goes on. The death of an unlucky aviator is of no more importance than the fall of a sparrow. Mankind deludes itself if it thinks otherwise.
John Sutherland describes the painting as
Bruegel, who died about four years after Shakespeare was born, seems to me perhaps the most Shakespearean of painters — partly because his sense of humanity encompasses such a broad emotional spectrum: from comedy to satire and bitter tragedy (the “seasons” paintings alone range from the flirtatious young girls of “Haymaking” to the autumnal melancholy of “The Return of the Herd” to the wintry catastrophe of “Dark Day”). He gives us both the cruelty and the beauty of nature. His magical “Adoration of the Magi” may well be the very first European painting to show snowflakes falling. And his paintings offer the Shakespearean alternation between intimate detail and epic scope. There’s the poignant “Two Monkeys,” the Falstaffian “Peasant Dance,” and the cast-of-thousands “Christ Carrying the Cross” (which is displayed in this exhibit without its frame, so that we could see the thinness of the wood panel it was painted on and how amazing it is that it has survived intact). Both versions of Bruegel’s “Tower of Babel” — startlingly different (the larger one, from Vienna, more satiric; the smaller one, from Rotterdam, much darker and more ominous) — are shown here together for the very first time.
But nowhere on view was “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” which didn’t have all that far to travel to Vienna from its home in Brussels. I met with Elke Oberthaler, chief conservator of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and one of the Bruegel show’s four curators and co-authors of the magnificent catalogue, which is just about to appear in this country. I couldn’t resist asking her about this particularly well-known painting and why it was missing. And her answer was like a punch in the gut to someone who had grown up with Auden’s poem. “It’s not by Bruegel,” she told me. (An examination in the mid-’90s brought the original attribution into doubt.) However, Oberthaler acknowledged that it was probably a copy of a lost Bruegel painting. But certainly not a Bruegel!
In Greek mythology, Icarus who succeeded in flying, with wings made by his father, using feathers and beeswax. Unfortunately, Icarus ignored his father’s warnings, and he flew too close to the sun, melting the wax, and he fell into the sea and drowned. His legs can be seen in the water at the bottom right.
“And the farmer continued to plow…”
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus has a slightly inaccurate balance between the character in the foreground and the background ships with the sizes not entirely what you would expect from such a skilled artist. Many believe however that this was a deliberate ploy by the artist to strengthen the power of the focal points of the work, and artistic license is an accepted element to many successful oil paintings right across art history.
Bruegel paintings still have many question marks surrounding them because the artist was prominent so many centuries ago, with few records still available. Despite this, the reputation of Pieter the Elder and other members of his family remains very strong within the art world and there are many who love to buy reproductions of his original works even today, normally as framed or unframed giclee art prints, posters and stretched canvases. The links included in this website will take you to the Art.com Bruegel gallery where many reproduction copies are for sale.
In “Musee des Beaux Arts,” Auden does not try, contenting himself with rueful recognition of the world’s indifference to individual martyrdom. But Williams achieves a more subtle, more faithful, more deeply felt response to the painting by means of carefully controlled imagery, grammar and diction, punctuation (or rather the absence of any punctuation whatsoever), and order. His method is evident first in the title of the poem. We know the painting simply as The Fall of Icarus. Williams’s revision of the title grammatically subordinates the tragic event to “Landscape,” just as the painting subordinates the image of Icarus to all that surrounds him. Yet the last word in the title, emphatic in its position, is “Icarus.” The tension between grammatical subordination and rhetorical emphasis is paralleled and amplified in the stanzas that follow.
off the coast