Boston Red Sox rooters like my colleagues Jonathan Cohn and Ryan Kearney were probably too excited about their team’s come-from-behind victory last night to notice a striking similarity between the photo of the game-tying grand slam and a famous Flemish painting.
In the painting, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” the sixteenth-century painter Pieter Bruegel depicts a harbor landscape with a ploughman, shepherd and fisherman in the foreground, and the ships and harbor in the background.
If you look closely at the waters in front of the largest ship, you’ll see the legs of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, plunging into the sea, where he drowned. But you have to look closely, and all you see are his legs.
A century earlier, Icarus’s fall—a momentous event in Greek mythology—might have been foregrounded, and the shepherd and ploughman in the background, but in Breugel’s painting—which in its current form may be a copy of the original—Icarus’s fall is subordinated to the bustling harbor life.
In the widely seen photo showing David Ortiz’s home run, which tied the score in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, you see a man’s legs—the right fielder Torii Hunger—upended behind the right-field bullpen wall. You don’t see the rest of him. And behind him, the arms of a policeman in the bullpen and of the spectators are raised upward in a “V” that perfectly complements and mirrors Hunter’s splayed legs.
On an ordinary sports day, Hunter’s fall—especially if he had been injured—would have been the main story, but in the photo of Ortiz’s home run, it is merely a detail meant to dramatize the celebratory spirit of the Boston fans and the triumph of Ortiz and his team over the Detroit Tigers. The main difference between Hunter’s fall and that of Icarus is that Icarus is a purely fictitious character and Hunter is not. Hunter’s fall really happened, and if the Tigers don’t recover tomorrow night from the larger event of which it was part, they’ll fall out of any chance to play in the World Series.