the fall of icarus bruegel
The Landscape with the Fall of Icarus painting is believed to have been completed around the 1560s and there still remains some question marks over whether Pieter Bruegel the Elder was in fact the original artist but no other painters have ever been linked to it. The classic work can now found on display in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and is held within their permanent collection, being one of the museum’s major attractions.
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.
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.
a parable on human aspiration. Daedalus and his son, Icarus, were imprisoned on the island of Crete. Daedalus created wings to fly away. Icarus, ambitiously, flew too near the sun. The wax holding his wings together melted and he plunged into the sea and was drowned.
All this is ‘unsignificant’.
The onlookers believe Daedalus and Icarus to be gods, and do not witness the only-too-human fall to earth. The message in Bruegel’s version is much more powerful. Yes, hybristic behaviour will lead to a downfall, but nobody will really care. Everyday life in all its simplicity will go on.
Largely derived from Ovid, the painting is described in W. H. Auden’s famous poem “Musée des Beaux-Arts”, named after the museum in Brussels which holds the painting, and became the subject of a poem of the same name by William Carlos Williams, as well as “Lines on Bruegel’s ‘Icarus'” by Michael Hamburger.
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.
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 Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure…