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15 Nobody’s Bruegel

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Chapter Summary

In Bruegel's beloved Brussels picture, all are indifferent to one another, and all, as W. H. Auden famously put it in 1938, have 'somewhere to get to'. The idea of Icarus as a fable of cosmic order, of knowing one's place in the world, in history, in societal life, is a commonplace in the art-historical literature. And the work's schematic formal organization-plowing peasant, water, sky-while rare among Bruegel's surviving paintings, has entreated the Icarus to generations of poets exploring human microcosms of various kinds. There is, in fact, also no shortage of writing on Bruegel's negotiation of Renaissance tropes of 'Nobody', and his dialectical cousin, 'Everyman', whom Bruegel, of course, portrayed in a 1558 pen and ink drawing in London of 'Elck'. For Theodor Vischer, genre painting was an obscurity, history of transcendence. The latter was constellated by real, capitalized people.

Keywords: art-historical literature; Bruegel's surviving paintings; human microcosms; renaissance tropes; Theodor Vischer



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