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COME FLY WITH ME...: The Lament for Icarus by Herbert James Draper

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The Lament for Icarus by Herbert James Draper, 1898, oil on canvas, 180 cm × 150 cm (72 in × 61 in)


ABOUT THIS PAINTING: They’re called cautionary tales. Life lessons wrapped in memorable fables, like King Midas and the problem of unbridled greed, Little Red Riding Hood and why you shouldn’t talk to strangers. And the Three Little Pigs and the importance of hard work and avoiding procrastination.
Another cautionary tale from mythology is the story of Daedalus and Icarus.
Daedalus was an inventor and architect in ancient Greece, who designed and built the Labyrinth for King Minos, a maze so cunning in design that Daedalus himself could barely escape.
King Minos was so concerned that Daedalus would divulge the secret of Labyrinth that he had Daedalus and his son, Icarus imprisoned in a tower.
To make his escape Daedalus made wings for himself and his son made of feathers and glued with wax. When it was time, Daedalus cautioned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun for fear the wax would melt and lose his feathers.
Now Icarus being an immature and headstrong boy, disregarded his father’s advice flying higher and higher, till his wings melted and he plummeted into the ocean and drowned.
There are plenty of paintings illustrating the flight of Daedalus and Icarus. But this work by Herbert Draper deals with the aftermath. Here, the dark lifeless body of Icarus has been drug from the sea by these water nymphs and pulled onto this rocky perch. The nymphs are lamenting the passing of Icarus, gazing at a remnant of a life so full of strength and vitality.
A lament is formal expression of grief or sorrow usually in the form of a poem or a song. Hence the nymph holding a lyre.
The death of Icarus is often depicted with the young man without feathers, trying to flap his arms.
In Draper’s painting the wings are intact. The display of feathers are patterned after birds-of-paradise, where the males of the species sport very graceful and beautiful plumage.
Unable to help his son, Daedalus continued on his flight to Italy. The moral: listen to your elders.

Photo Credit: Andrea Lawardi, Greater Bird of Paradise, @N03

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