Art Analysis Essay Example ("Landscape With The Fall of Icarus" by Pieter Bruegel)


The first thing I have noticed when looking at the picture is a man with a plow and horse working on a ground. When tracing the lines made with his plow on the ground, it becomes vivid that he has been working for the whole day. His head is down and he looks tired and concentrated on what he is doing.

Then I have noticed a big sailing ship, and when looking closer I realized it was not the only one on the picture. You can see the contours of other ships, which are obviously sailing far away. The ship is beautiful and resembles one of those that were used up to the nineteenth century for transferring goods and people across the seas and oceans. Obviously it is windy, as its canvases are full of wind. The ship is sailing in the sea or some kind of bay, probably leaving a port. The sea is calm and the weather overall is bright. It is hard to identify which season exactly it is, but most probably it is spring or summer. On the horizon the subtle contour of the setting sun can be seen. The setting sun also leaves faint traces of light on the water surface. When looking at the small figures of ships on the horizon, the one can see the features of town standing on the shore side of the sea. It is hard to see it right away as the features are not clear.

The town is displayed very unclear and small, which means it is located far away from the scene we see on the front. Besides, when observing the picture more carefully, I could see many other small details, that were hard to notice at first. When looking better on the landscape behind the man with a plow, I can see another man who looks like a shepherd. He has a dog near him, and is surrounded by numerous sheep. The man has his head up as looking at the sky. It looks like the shepherd is checking the weather. Besides, down the hill there is another man. It is not easy to notice him as he is painted with his back to a viewer. The man is obviously busy with doing something, most probably fishing. When I looked a little bit higher above the fishing man, I have discovered another small element of the picture that I did not notice initially. Surprisingly, there appear to be human legs. The overall situation looks like someone is sinking in the water. When paying more attention, the one may also notice few figures of birds on the trees.


The first thought that the picture provokes is the correlation of its name "Landscape With Fall of Icarus" to its actual content and composition. Firtly, the name itself comes from the ancient Greek myth about Daedalus and his son Icarus. According to the story, Daedalus elaborated wings so that they could fly as the birds, but strictly warned Icarus not too fly too high as the sun light may be too dangerous. However, Icarus ignored the father's warning and went too close to the sun. As a result, it melted the wings and Icarus fell down into the sea and died. Interestingly, regarding the name, Icarus is supposed to be the central figure of the painting, but is presented there just as a small element on the background. Under the close scrutiny a viewer may see a man in the water, or only his legs, to be precise. If taken all details into consideration, we may suppose it should be falling Icarus himself. Therefore, the viewer may also see the bright sunlight in the upper part of the picture should probably demonstrate wings being in fire. There are also feathers around Icarus, which left from the burnt wings. Therefore, the one may understand the events on the painting only if knowing an ancient Greek myth. Besides, apparently, Pieter Bruegel displayed Icarus, who is a key element on the painting, as one of the smallest details not by a coincidence.

On the other hand, falling man seems to misfit in the painting like it was not supposed to be there. The thing is that overall composition gives an impression of a regular bright day, when everything is flowing according its everyday routine and noting unusual can be noticed at first at all. A viewer firstly sees big details like a plawman with horse working on a ground, sailing merchant ship or beautiful landscapes. Icarus in the water is kind of detail the one notices later, after observing the painting more attentively. What makes the whole situation even more strange is that no one seems to pay attention to the man falling into water. The plowman patiently continues working on a ground, a shepherd is checking the weather, and even the fisherman, who is close from the place where Icarus fell down, does not notice anything. Or, possibly, they might have noticed something, but are too busy with their activities to think about that. The sun is setting, the day is going to its end, and everyone is trying to finish their job.

Taking into account the correlation between the name of the painting suggesting that Icarus actually is the key character on the painting, and the way Icarus is actually displayed on the picture, it may be said that the artist applied deliberately such a technique. The main idea demonstrates how minor and unnoticed the tragedy of an individual may be in terms of the whole society. It is vividly demonstrated on the example of Icarus, whose death was left unnoticed on the background of the usual routine.

Organizational Pattern

Regarding the organizational pattern, I would suggest that the painting should be analyzed according to the key meaningful elements, even though some of them seem to be unclear at first glance. It will give me an opportunity to analyze the main themes on the painting while taking into consideration its separate elements and unifying them according to the same topical meaning. I believe elements on the picture should not be disintegrated as they are interrelated and carry their meaning only when taken as a group or unity. For example, when analyzing the name of the painting and the key figure of Icarus, it becomes clear that the feathures around him are from the burnt wings and the ling in the upper part signifies the wings being in fire because of the sun light. Anyway, from my perspective, every viewer may also outline different detail as the topical ones, which makes the picture even more interesting and meaningful.

After observing all details it becomes obvious that human activity is dominating in the painting composition. To begin, the man working with a plow and a horse on the ground seems mistakenly to be the central figure when looking at the picture at the first time. Obviously, he has been working the whole day, and now he looks tired and concentrated on what he is doing. Other men from the painting, who are shepherd and fisherman, may represent human activities like sheep breeding and fishing. Overall, all these elements together create a vivid image of the peasant life in some rural county, and all people described on the painting seem to be busy with their usual routine. Interestingly, in spite of the fact of vivid human presence on the painting, no one is paying attention to the man that fell into the water. In fact, a plowman, a shepherd and a fisherman are too busy with their routine and main occupation to notice Icarus falling into the sea.

Additionally, the human presence on the painting is presented with some other elements than actual human figures of the working plowman, the shepherd, and the fisherman. For example, one of the most noticeable elements on the painting is a big sailing boat, which resembles one of those merchant boats that used to transfer goods and people overseas. Interestingly, the figure of Icarus is painted right near the ship, but stays almost unnoticed comparing to the features of the huge ship. The one can also notice the small figures of other similar ships sailing further on the horizon and the distinct features of the town standing on the shore side of the sea. It is hard to see it right away as the features are not clear, which means it is located far from the scene we see on the front.

Analyzing all details, the picture appears to be more meaningful than it seems to be at first. Overall, the author skilfully blended the nature and picturesque landscape views with the vivid evidence of human presence on the picture. The landscapes described by Pieter Briegel are picturesque and show beautiful views of the seaside with rocks in the water, but also valleys and forests. As it was said, it is spring most probably now, and the nature is especially charming. However, while observing nature on the picture, the one may not avoid noticing different elements on the picture reflecting human intervention into the world of nature. For example, the viewer sees the city on the shoreside, sailing boats in the water, working people all around.

Besides, the picture also demonstrates the deep relation between nature and a human. For instance, the boats demonstrate people's ability to conquer such a natural force as water, a shepherd denotes how people trained animals like a dog and sheep to serve them and a plowman shows how people learned to use soil to grow food. In fact, a human has handled nature and managed to adjust it in such a way to use for own needs and goals. Icarus's flight may be regarded as the another attempt to handle nature. He wanted to fly like a bird, and went higher and higher, which consequently led to his tragic death. His death is a failed attempt to handle the sky. People learned how to handle sea and build big houses, use soil and train animals for their convenience, but were far from exploring the sky. In fact, his flight may be seen as a first one in the history of humanity.

To conclude, the painter deliberately displayed Icarus as a small figure on the background of such a peaceful surrounding, where everything is flowing according to its usual routine. Such a contrast enhances the feeling of how the personal tragedy of one person may be lost if taken on larger scale.