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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

"Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Brueghel, the Elder was long thought to be painted by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, however, following recent technical examinations it is now regarded as an excellent early copy by an unknown artist of Bruegel’s lost original.

In Greek mythology, Icarus who succeeded in flying, with wings made by his father, using feathers and beeswax. Unfortunately, Icarus ignored his father’s warnings, and he flew too close to the sun, melting the wax, and he fell into the sea and drowned. His legs can be seen in the water at the bottom right.

The ploughman, shepherd and angler are mentioned in famous Ovid’s account of the legend, in which they are:

“astonished and think to see gods approaching them through the aether.”

The painting contains these figures, but they seem to be oblivious to Icarus’s fate. This composition may be intended to illustrate the Flemish proverb:

“And the farmer continued to plough…”

Thus the painting is highlighting humanities 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.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Pieter Bruegel (also Brueghel) the Elder (1525 – 1569) was the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting, a painter known for his landscapes and peasant scenes. He influenced the Dutch Golden Age painting with his innovative choices of subject matter, as one of the first generation of artists to grow up when religious subjects had ceased to be the dominant subject matter of painting.

All his most famous paintings come from the decade before his early death, when he was in his early forties, and at the height of his powers. He dropped the ‘h’ from his name and signed his paintings as Bruegel, and he is sometimes referred to as “Peasant Bruegel”, to distinguish him from the many later painters in his family, including his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1638).

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

Pieter Brueghel the Elder

A tour of  Museums in European

Reflections:

  • The irony of the death of Icarus is that his death goes unnoticed.

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“God is with those who persevere; Persevere and never fear.”
– Flemish Proverb

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Photo Credit: Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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