Sunday, 1 June 2014


“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” - Leonardo da Vinci

I have many favourite paintings, which I particularly like looking at and some of which I use as a wallpaper on my computer screen, have prints of, or even a couple that are hanging on my wall at home. In terms of famous paintings that I particularly like there are several. I am sharing one of these with you today for Art Sunday: Pieter Brueghel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” ca 1558. It is oil on canvas, mounted on wood (73.5 x 112 cm) and hangs in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels.

There is a dream-like quality to this painting that always draws me in. There is mystery and imagination in it. The legend of Icarus whose wings held together by wax melted as he flew too close to the sun is one of my favourites in Greek mythology, but this legend takes a subsidiary role in this painting. You can just make out the legs of Icarus in front of the ship in the right lower part of the painting, which seems to be more a bucolic, idyllic land/seascape.

The greenish light, the view from up high on the slope of a mountain, the setting sun, the broad vista of the seascape and distant city make this painting quite special. The figures in the foreground are the people seeing the flying humans and are dressed in 16th century garb - anachronistic, yet very suited to the mood of the painting. When I visited Brussels I made a special point of visiting the museum there and looking at this painting for ages. It was gorgeously beautiful…

The legend of Daedalus and Icarus in greater detail: Daedalus was a brilliant inventor who was in great demand by the various kings as his inventions were useful in both peace and war. King Minos of Crete managed to obtain the services of Daedalus for his court. King Minos asks Daedalus to design a maze (the Labyrinth) in which to put the terrible monster, the Minotaur (half bull-half man).

Unfortunately, Daedalus angered King Minos when he helped Theseus kill the Minotaur and escape the labyrinth. Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the labyrinth and forbade them to ever leave Crete. Desperate to escape, Daedalus uses wax, twine and birds’ feathers to build some wings for himself and his son. Daedalus warns his son to fly at a middle height: The seawater will dampen the wings if he flies too low, and the sun will melt the wax if he flies too high.

Father and son strap on the wings and manage to fly out of the labyrinth. People on the ground, including shepherds and ploughmen, stop their work to gaze up at Daedalus and Icarus. They are surprised at the sight of two people flying in the air, thinking that Daedalus and Icarus might be gods, since no human has ever achieved flight before. Icarus heeds his father’s advice for a while, but then he gets cocky. He forgets the warnings and flies too close to the sun. Sure enough, his wings melt, and Icarus plummets into the sea and drowns. Daedalus is devastated by his son’s death, but he cannot do anything. He flies on to Sicily, where he mourns Icarus and builds a temple in honour of the god Apollo (god of the sun).

While living in Sicily, Daedalus strikes up a friendship with King Cocalus, the ruler of the island. When King Minos comes searching for Daedalus, Cocalus takes pity on him and hides the inventor. King Cocalus’ daughters kill King Minos with scalding water, freeing Daedalus from his pursuer forever.

There is a dark side to Daedalus, and this is hinted at in the painting. In the lower right hand corner between the falling Icarus and the figure by the seashore is a partridge roosting on a branch. Daedalus was so proud of his achievements that he could not bear the idea of a rival. His sister had placed her son Perdix under his charge as an apprentice. Perdix was an apt scholar and gave striking evidences of ingenuity. Walking on the seashore he picked up the the skeleton of a fish. Imitating it, he took a piece of iron and notched it on the edge, and thus invented the saw. He put two pieces of iron together, connecting them at one end with a rivet, and sharpening the other ends, and made a pair of compasses. Dædalus was so envious of his nephew’s inventions that he took an opportunity, when they were together one day on the top of a high tower, to push him off. But Athena, who favours ingenuity, saw him falling, and arrested his fate by changing him into a bird called after his name, the Partridge. This bird does not build his nest in the trees, nor take lofty flights, but nestles in the hedges, and mindful of his fall, avoids high places…

What is your favourite painting that you particularly like or remember at this moment?


  1. My favourite painting at the moment is Monet's "Poppy Field"

  2. PS: I enjoyed the walk-through the myth that explains the painting. Most people would not even notice the partridge, much less know why it was there!

  3. I’m stuck on this Picasso at the mo: