Analytic Ekphrasis on “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Bruegel (16th C.)


“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” illustrates the setting for the Greek myth after which it is named. The myth tells of the young boy Icarus who took flight from imprisonment in Crete with pair of wings his father fashioned for him. Imprudent to his father’s warning to avoid proximity with the sun, the boy soared into the horizon with a surge of exaltation and was burned by its rays. With a charred set of wings he was expunged to the sea to die. The painting illustrates the imagined setting of this tragedy: a tranquil Spring morning where life ruptures in the flourishing pageantry of new life. In the midst of this seasonal splendor, the crashing death of Icarus goes unnoticed. More poignantly it shows that the daily motion of pedestrian life is essentially unaffected, signalling the vanity of one’s existence in the greater cycle of life. Just beyond the budding cliffs of the landscape, the farmer tending to his plough, and the self-absorption of life at the edge of sea, the tragic legs of Icarus are suspended as he plunders beneath the sea’s surface. There he goes down, unnoticed, drowning into irrelevance as a new day begins.


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