Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-69): Landscape with the Fall

12/6/2021, 11:22:50 AM
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-69): Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c. 1555, Oil on canvas, mounted on wood, 73.5 × 112 cm (28.9 × 44.1 in), Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts), Brussels . . This painting, from about 1555, is the only one with a mythological subject in Bruegel's painted oeuvre. The literary source is Ovid's Metamorphoses, in which the poet tells the story of the great engineer Daedalus, who constructed the Labyrinth for King Minos, and his son Icarus. Icarus, over-ambitious, ignored his father's warning and flew too close to the sun, whose strength melted the wax holding his wings together. He plunged to his death in the sea; here only his legs can be seen above the water, to the far right of the painting. The artist has followed Ovid's text accurately. The ploughman, fisherman and shepherd are all mentioned. The motif of the peasant with the plough is given added significance by the presence the corpse of an old man, only just visible, lying in the bushes on the left. This refers to the Flemish proverb 'No plough stops because a man dies'. A crucial aspect of Brueghel's painting is its perspective. The landscape and the action are seen from above. The force of the picture is thus to move the viewer not only to recognize the unconcern for catastrophe inherent in the preoccupation of ongoing life.

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