Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is a painting in oil on canvas (73.5 by 112 centimetres (28.9 in × 44 in)) long thought to be by Pieter Bruegel, although following technical examinations in 1996, that attribution is regarded as very doubtful, and it is now seen as a good early copy by an unknown artist of Bruegel's original, perhaps painted in the 1560s.
Largely derived from Ovid, the painting itself became the subject of a poem of the same name by William Carlos Williams, and is described in W. H. Auden's famous poem Musée des Beaux-Arts, named after the museum in which the painting is housed in Brussels.
In Greek mythology, Icarus succeeded in flying, with wings made by his father Daedalus, using feathers secured with 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.
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.
Though landscape paintings with the title subject represented by small figures in the distance were 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 work was unknown until it was bought by the museum in 1912; subsequently another version on panel, generally considered inferior, turned up, which was acquired in 1953 by Daniel van Buuren for his private house, today a museum, in Brussels. In this, which excludes the far left and right sides of the composition, Icarus is in the water but Daedelus is still in the air, and the shepherd's gaze is directed at him, explaining one aspect of the composition of the other version. The original would have been Bruegel's only known painting of a mythological subject. The perspective of the ship and figures is not entirely consistent, although this may enhance the power of the composition. He also produced a design for an engraving with the ship and the two falling figures.
Mentions in other media 
Eric Steele, whose film The Bridge (2006) documents the suicides of two-dozen people who jumped off the world's most popular suicide site - the Golden Gate Bridge - throughout 2004, has compared images captured in his documentary to those of Bruegel’s Landscape With the Fall of Icarus, because the fatal leaps go almost unnoticed by passersby.
- Says the Museum: "On doute que l'exécution soit de Pieter I Bruegel mais la conception lui est par contre attribuée avec certitude" - It is doubtful the execution is by Breugel the Elder, but the composition can be said with certainty to be his" Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. "Description détaillée" (in French). Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- de Vries, Lyckle (2003). "Bruegel's "Fall of Icarus": Ovid or Solomon?". Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art (Stichting voor Nederlandse Kunsthistorische Publicaties) 30 (1/2): 4–18. doi:10.2307/3780948. JSTOR 3780948.
- Hagen, Rose-Marie; Hagen, Rainer (2001). Bruegel, The Complete Paintings. Midpoint Press. p. 60. ISBN 3-8228-1531-4.
- Hunt, Patrick. "Ekphrasis or Not? Ovid (Met. 8.183-235 ) in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus".
- Van Strydonck, Mark J. Y.; Masschelein-Kleiner, Liliane; Alderliesten, Cees; de Jong, Arie F. M. (1998). "Radiocarbon Dating of Canvas Paintings: Two Case Studies". Studies in Conservation (International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works) 43 (4): 209–214. doi:10.2307/1506730. JSTOR 1506730.
- de Vries:4
- Holden, Stephen (27 October 2006). "NYT Critics' Pick - The Bridge (2006): That Beautiful but Deadly San Francisco Span". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 July 2012. More than one of
Further reading 
- Kilinski II, Karl (2004). "Bruegel on Icarus. Inversions of the Fall". Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 67 (1): 91–114.