The Fall of Phaeton and The Fall of Icarus
There is nothing haphazard about the works of art created by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (circa 1525-1569). The general public knows Pieter Bruegel primarily for his paintings depicting scenes in the countryside, but these are only one part of his body of work. He also stood out as an innovator in the area of landscape art, and created a number of timeless and universal narrative depictions. He completed detailed drawings for Hieronymus Cock (1518-1570), a print publisher from Antwerp. These drawings were copied onto brass plates by the best engravers of the era. In this way, Bruegel gave birth to an impressive collection of engravings for which he acquired international fame.
With his "Sea Vessels" series, Bruegel established the basis for a new genre in engraving – maritime views depicting ships – which would swiftly take on extraordinary prominence during the Dutch Golden Age. Bruegel would (quite literally) move heaven and earth to achieve proper balance in his creations.
In the two works on display, The Fall of Phaeton and The Fall of Icarus – both of which belong to the "Sea Vessels" series of engravings – emphasis is placed on the detailed depiction of the sailing ships. But in them, Bruegel also painted turbulent skies. In addition to threatening cloudscapes and impressive storms, the presence of two Titans helps boost the dramatic character of these two engravings.
The Fall of Icarus depicts the denouement of the story of Daedalus and his son Icarus, who escape from the labyrinth using their wings, which they craft from feathers and wax. The father warns his son not to fly too close to the sun, or else the wax will melt, but Icarus rashly chooses to ignore this advice.
As a demigod and the son of Apollo, Phaeton already had his place in Olympus. But the young demigod’s dearest wish is to drive Apollo’s sun-chariot. Against his father’s wishes, he chooses to do so. As he flies away, the steeds get carried away in their excitement, and the young Phaeton, lacking experience, loses control. Jupiter is asked to intervene. The King of the Gods sends down a bolt of lightning to stop the chariot in its tracks, sending Phaeton crashing down into the river Eridanos.
The Royal Library of Belgium is currently studying the artwork of Bruegel in its collection. Thanks to the FINGERPRINT project, the drawings and engravings will be examined in minute detail. With the help of special scanning devices, statistical image processing, and laboratory analyses, we will be able to show the different phases that went into the creation of a drawing or engraving. This four-year project will allow us to achieve a deeper understanding of Bruegel’s artwork, which will be put to use for a large exhibition in 2019 – 450 years after the artist’s passing.<< Back to the list of objects