bruegel the fall of icarus
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.
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.
If you look carefully, you can see his legs as he drowns, in the far distance of the painting. They are dwarfed by the horse’s rump …
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.
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).
The ploughman, shepherd and angler are mentioned in Ovid’s account of the legend; they are: “astonished and think to see gods approaching them through the aether”, which is not entirely the impression given in the painting. The shepherd gazing into the air, away from the ship, may be explained by another version of the composition (see below); in the original work there was probably also a figure of Daedalus in the sky to the left, at which he stares. There is also a Flemish proverb (of the sort imaged in other works by Bruegel): “And the farmer continued to plough. ” (En de boer . hij ploegde voort”) pointing out the ignorance of people to fellow men’s suffering. The painting may, as Auden’s poem suggests, depict humankind’s indifference to suffering by highlighting the ordinary events which continue to occur, despite the unobserved death of Icarus.
About suffering, they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along…
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.
In my last post, I mentioned Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Fall of Icarus (or rather Landscape with the Fall of Icarus). I’d like to return to this painting, as it happens to be one of my favourite.
Last winter, I had the pleasure of introducing Tween T and Big Boy G to Bruegel’s work. I was happy to see that both boys were particularly attracted by The Fall of Icarus, which in my opinion is the finest pictorial representation of the myth of Icarus and his father Daedalus, who attempted to escape Crete and King Minos with wings made of feathers and wax. After a good start, Icarus grew cocky, and flew too close to the sun. The heat caused the wax to melt, and Icarus fell into the Aegean Sea.