Landscape with the Fall of Icarus


Breughel, Pieter




Sixteenth-century Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel, whose two sons were also artists, is known for his panoramic landscapes and genre paintings of peasant life. "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" is unusual for Brueghel in that it treats a mythological subject, although with a peasant figure in the center foreground. Only Icarus’ legs are visible as he plunges into the sea, having ignored his father’s advice not to fly too close to the sun. The painting draws some of its details from the story of Icarus and Daedalus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and it in turn inspired W.H. Auden’s poem "Musée des Beaux Arts." Used singly or paired with Auden’s poem, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus could frame and focus a discussion of how we respond to the suffering of others.

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Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Oil on canvas, c. 1558. Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.




Connection and RelationshipExclusion and BelongingHealth and HealingRoles and Boundaries

Big Questions

What makes it possible for us to connect to others? What gets in the way?What does it mean to be alone?How do we respond to the suffering of others? How would we like others to respond to our own?How far should we go in trying to identify with those we serve?


This resource pairs well with W.H. Auden's poem "Musee des Beaux Arts."

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What is one word that comes to you as you look at this image?
  2. Where is your gaze drawn first, and why?
  3. Where is Icarus in the painting? What were your thoughts or feelings when you located him?
  4. If you were a figure in this landscape, what would you be doing or saying?
  5. In what ways does the title, "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus," frame the painting? Does it reveal or suggest to us anything that the painting by itself does not?
  6. Do you agree with W.H. Auden that this is a painting about suffering? Why or why not? If you had to describe a theme of the painting, what would you say?
  7. What is one question this image raises for you?
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