breughel fall of icarus
Fall of Icarus is the abbreviated name of this classic painting and features a stylish scene in which a large character makes his way across the foreground of the painting, with an elaborate landscape scene sitting behind him that contains a traditional harbour and sunlight glowing from the back. It is unusual for an artist of this period to feature characters in such a large size and within the foreground of the painting, with Pieter Bruegel himself normally prefering smaller characters in larger numbers.
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.
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 …
John Sutherland describes the painting as
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.
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.
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.
Bruegel’s “Hunters in the Snow.”
off the coast
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.