Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bruegel: Icarus

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (Pieter Bruegel, 1558)

Pieter Bruegel (c. 1525-1569) painted Landscape with the Fall of Icarus in 1558 while living in Antwerp. It is a small painting, only 29 x 44 inches (74 x 112 cm). We may see it in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels.

While most of the painting is of sky, land, and sea, we have little wild nature. The sun splashes bright yellows, but only in one corner of the painting. There are hills, but they are not very big or scary. The sea is calm and only a gentle wind blows.

If sky, land, and sea are God’s creation, cities are man’s creation. Bruegel’s painting also has cities in it, but they are not very big or scary either.

Most important to Bruegel are the places where the creations of God and man come together. First we see a farmer plowing the land. Then we see a shepherd and his dog with their sheep. If we look closely, we can see a man fishing. Finally, we can see ships sailing gently.

If we did not know better, we might call this painting, God and Man in Harmony. It pictures a perfect blending of God’s creation with human work. Almost.

In the lower right-hand corner of the painting, if we look closely, we can see two human legs. They are all we see of Icarus as he dies in the sea.

The rest is harmony. The farmer sees only the dirt as his plow turns it over. The shepherd looks into the sky at a dream. His dog does not hear a sound. The fisherman looks at the sea but only to see the fish he wants to catch. A ship sails gently to the city which is near. All is as it should be.

Except Icarus dies, alone.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.