Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c.1560
(or a copy by a student based on Bruegel's painting)
73.5 x 112 cm, oil on canvas
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium
In Breughel'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; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Although the plowman dominates the painting, there's a lot going on it, and you really have to look to notice Icarus at all. He's just about to go under in a forward dive:
As with Hieronymus Bosch' painting, “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” the landscape here is merely a setting for a story. But it's a magical landscape, a landscape where myth edges up to the quotidian. In the moment depicted by Bruegel, the plowman plows, the sailing ship sails, the shepherd herds, but Icarus plummets out of a long-told tale, drops into the ocean.
As I walk through the landscape while seeking a painting spot, I keep my senses alert for a moment like that. I don't want to miss Icarus.