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Work The Fall of Icarus

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

La chute d'Icare

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Bellot

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Author(s):
Mancini Federica

The drawn fireplace that frames this work indicates that it belonged to Giorgio Vasari's collection for his great work, Lives of the Most Eminent Artists, Sculptors and Architects (1568). The drawings, grouped in one book, were published alongside the Lives. The finest drawings were also described. This was the case with The Fall of Icarus, which was on view at the Museum up until about 1845, was afterward declared lost, and was finally "rediscovered" in 1979.

Flying too close to the sun

According to legend, Icarus ignored his father Daedalus's warnings and flew too close to the chariot carrying the sun across the heavens, melting the wax in his wings and falling to his death. The presence of the chariot is indicated by the four foreshortened horses on the right of the sheet. In the center is the twisted figure of Icarus. His disintegrating wings and the look of terror on his face are drawn very realistically. On the left is Daedalus, turning towards his son. His expression reflects his anguish at not being able to save the boy, while the glance the two figures are exchanging is an indication that they both realize what is about to happen. At the top of the sheet are two signs of the Zodiac, Cancer and Leo. The swirl of clouds accentuates the worm's-eye view perspective, which is powerfully expressive. The drawing is framed by a fireplace flanked by two terms in profile. The artist's name is given in a cartouche beneath the drawing. The upper part, originally depicting a pediment and a medallion bearing a portrait of Vasari, has been cut off.

The other mythological Fall

In the Lives, Vasari noted that the Fall of Icarus was painted on the ceiling of an antechamber in the Palazzo del Te in Mantua. However, none of the frescoes in the palace seem to contain this iconography. The only room with a similar theme is the Room of the Eagles, which contains an octagonal painting in oil on plaster depicting the Fall of Phaeton. A number of hypotheses have been put forward to explain this discrepancy. The drawing may have been used for a fresco that was later destroyed for some reason, or the theme may have been replaced by the story of Phaeton. Another possible explanation is that while Vasari's work remains an extremely important milestone in historiography, it is nonetheless known to be occasionally at odds with known sources and proven facts.

The reality of a tragedy

This very large sheet, dating from about 1536, distinguishes itself from the perfunctory style generally used for demonstration pieces or modelli. In this case, the composition is characterized by its extremely high technical quality. The fact that this is a finished drawing, ready to be transferred to the intended support, is shown by the light traces of squaring on the paper and the careful yet confident lines of the drawing. Yet the work still retains a certain freshness in the narration even in this final phase. The additions in pen and ink give a natural air, which was rare in Giulio Romano's work for this type of drawing.

Bibliography

Monbeig Goguel C., "Giulio Romano et Giorgio Vasari : le dessin de La chute d'Icare retrouvé", in La Revue du Louvre et des Musées de France, n 4, 1979, p. 273-276.
Bacou R., Autour de Raphaël, Musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1983-1984, n 76.
Berzaghi R., in Giulio Romano, Mantoue, Palazzo del Te, 1989, notice p. 394 et 395.


Technical description

  • Giulio Pippi known as Giulio Romano (1492/1499-1546)

    The Fall of Icarus

    c. 1536

  • Pen and brown ink, brown wash over a preliminary sketch in black chalk with oxidised white heightening; paper squared

    H. 38.8 cm; L. 58.3 cm

  • Giorgio Vasari collection; Everhard Jabach collection; acquired for the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities, 1671

    393499

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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