landscape with the fall of icarus painting
There has long been great discussion over the Landscape with the Fall of Icarus painting because it does not fit consistently into the career of Pieter Bruegel the Elder for several different reasons. Firstly, the artist used tempera on canvas in all his other paintings where as this was created in oils as seen far more commonly now. The mythological topic around which this painting was based would also be the only time that Bruegel would have done this.
Fall of Icarus by Bruegel was a painting which was subjected to intensive scrutiny by art academics who wanted to prove who was the original creator of this painting. The work was carried out in 1996 and conclusions were drawn that it was unlikely to have been from Pieter Bruegel’s own hand though with no other artist being linked to it, Fall of Icarus will probably still remain within his portfolio for years to come.
John Sutherland describes the painting as
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c. 1555) is an oil painting attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It shows the Greek mythological figure, Icarus, plunging into the sea in the lower right-hand corner.
The work was bought by the museum in 1912. In 1953 another version on panel, generally considered inferior, turned up and was acquired by Daniel van Buuren for his private house, today a museum in Brussels. In this we see the character missing in the previous version of the painting – Daedelus, who is still in the air. Also, the shepherd’s gaze is directed at him, just like in Ovid’s story.
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (after?), c. 1560, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, detail
“astonished and think to see gods approaching them through the aether.”
Thus the painting is highlighting humanity’s indifference to other people’s suffering. As Auden’s poem suggests, this composition depicts humankind’s indifference to other people’s pain by underscoring the ordinary events which continue to occupy our lives. Additionally, the traditional moral story of the Icarus, which warns against excessive ambition, is reinforced by the more humble figures who seem content to fill useful roles in life.
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.
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is a painting in oil on canvas measuring 73.5 by 112 centimetres (28.9 in × 44.1 in) in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels. It was long thought to be by the leading painter of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. However, following technical examinations in 1996 of the painting hanging in the Brussels museum that attribution is regarded as very doubtful, and the painting, perhaps painted in the 1560s, is now usually seen as a good early copy by an unknown artist of Bruegel’s lost original, perhaps from about 1558. According to the museum: “It is doubtful the execution is by Breugel the Elder, but the composition can be said with certainty to be his”, although recent technical research has re-opened the question.