bruegel fall of icarus
This website covers the Fall of Icarus in detail and includes images of the painting as well as good information on the life of the painter. Pieter Bruegel the Elder was responsible for the painting discussed but his son, the younger, also had an impressive career too and both are certainly worth studying.
Please see below for a summarised list of the most popular Bruegel paintings which are searched for online, right across the world.
In literature, Icarus is often used as a metaphor for human pride and ambition. For example, in the Prologue of Doctor Faustus (c. 1588), Christopher Marlowe uses the myth to foreshadow the inevitable downfall of Faustus, who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for superhuman powers: ‘His waxen wings did mount above his reach, / And melting, heavens conspired his overthrow’.
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is described in W H Auden’s famous poem Musée des Beaux-Arts , named after the museum in Brussels which holds the painting.
If you look very closely, you can see the spindly legs of a small body that has just fallen into the sea, while the country folk on the shore are just going through their daily routine:
On one wall, four of his five currently surviving paintings of the seasons, including the beloved “Hunters in the Snow,” were reunited for the first time since they were painted (the Metropolitan Museum wouldn’t allow the fifth, the famous “Harvesters,” out of its sight, let alone cross the ocean). It was an overwhelming display.
This theme of compassion failure pervades the short work by physician Anton Chekhov,“A Boring Story: From an Old Man’s Notes 14 : Nikolai Stepanovich, a medical professor emeritus, describes himself as “a highly distinguished man of great gifts and unquestionable usefulness.” At age 62, though, this professor is depressed and clearly suffering from his own preoccupations and vulnerabilities. He tells us that he has tic douloureux, false teeth, a bald head, poor memory with a decline in his mental agility, and incapacitating insomnia. With the “fervor of the hypochondriac,” the professor peruses therapeutic texts and self-medicates with a different medication daily. 14 Nothing holds his interest or gives him pleasure, including the sight of his wife, now “this old, very stout, ungainly woman with a dull expression” 14 whom he had once “passionately loved.” 14 His lectures used to give him more enjoyment than anything else but now make him feel tortured and ashamed. He no longer has any patience or compassion for his students. To one young man who has invested five years in medical study but has continually failed the professor’s exams, he cruelly suggests that he abandon his training. To another student, who seeks mentoring advice from him, he is caustic and dismissive. He describes himself as indifferent, which he defines as a “paralysis of the soul, a premature death.” 14
A discussion of the concept of Schadenfreude dates back at least to the ancient Greeks: Aristotle wrote about those who take pleasure in another’s misfortune in his Nicomachean Ethics. 18 The Bible, as well, proclaims, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles…” 18
Though the world landscape, a type of work with the title subject represented by small figures in the distance, was an established type in Early Netherlandish painting, pioneered by Joachim Patiner, to have a much larger unrelated “genre” figure in the foreground is original and represents something of a blow against the emerging hierarchy of genres. Other landscapes by Bruegel, for example The Hunters in the Snow (1565) and others in that series of paintings showing the seasons, show genre figures in a raised foreground, but not so large relative to the size of the image, nor with a subject from a “higher” class of painting in the background.
In Greek mythology, Icarus succeeded in flying, with wings made by his father Daedalus, using feathers secured with bees wax. Ignoring his father’s warnings, Icarus chose to fly too close to the sun, melting the wax, and fell into the sea and drowned. His legs can be seen in the water just below the ship. The sun, already half-set on the horizon, is a long way away; the flight did not reach anywhere near it. Daedalus does not appear in this version of the painting, though he does, still flying, in the van Buuren one (see below).