BOL, Hans
(b. 1534, Mechelen, d. 1593, Amsterdam)

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

Watercolour on paper, 133 x 206 mm
Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp

People in the 16th century were immensely interested in classical mythology. This is indicated by the many editions and translations in that period of Ovid's Metamorphoses. The ancient myth of Icarus was especially popular and was depicted in art on many occasions, not least by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. A story pitting youth against age and brashness against self-knowledge was an ideal theme for an era which loved to moralize.

In spite of its small size, the watercolour by Hans Bol, a Netherlandish Mannerist, is a marvellous example of the art of landscape. Subtle colour transitions, skilful perspective and effective contrasts between foreground and background, and human figures and the forces of nature, lend this miniature painting a cosmic dimension.

Hans Bol chose the Icarus theme on several occasions. It was also the subject of one of his paintings, which was described in detail and highly praised by Carel van Mander in the 17th century. Although Bol once an important and admired painter, we only know him through his small drawings and watercolours. Most of his paintings appear to have been lost. This miniature is all the more important, because it probably reproduces the painting referred to by Van Mander, which may have been his masterpiece. Consequently, Bol ought to be viewed not only as a superior miniature painter, but above all as an important artist who played a key role in the development of landscape art.