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.
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."