THE FALL OF ICARUS - BY JAMES GILLRAY (BOHN EDITION)
19th century etching caricature titled ‘The Fall Of Icarus’ by James Gillray originally published by H. Humphrey, 1805. Then in this Bohn Edition in 1851. Presented in a fine late 18th century frame with its original glass.
Gillray's prints are full of allusions to shared sources that help to eluicidate their meaning. The first and most obvious shared source is the Bible whose stories would have been known to both the high and low among his audience. At least forty of his prints contain Biblical titles or allusions.
But after the Bible, the next most frequent source of allusion is classical mythology, mostly of the popular kind that would have been known by a large cross section of his audience. Examples include Dido Forsaken , Midas Transmuting All into Paper , Charon's Boat... , Pandora Opening Her Box , and this print, The Fall of Icarus .
According to the story, Daedalus and Icarus were imprisoned by King Minos in the labyrinth that Daedalus had originally created for the Minotaur. But the master craftsman Daedalus devised a set of wings of feathers and wax which would enable him and his son to esacape. Before they set off, he warned his son to follow his own flight path and avoid flying either too high or too low. But Icarus didn't listen. Giddy with his new found sense of power, he flew too close to the sun, his wings melted away, and he fell to his death.
Lord Temple, a member of the so-called Broad Bottom'd Coalition, had a history of over-reaching. When he became Joint Paymaster of the Forces under his uncle and Prime Minister Lord Grenville, he had his name "Earl Temple" engraved on a brass plate on the door of the Paymaster's Office as if it were his private residence. Later he was part of the group that openly challenged the King's wishes when it came to allowing Catholics to hold positions in the army and navy. And finally, when the King dismissed the Grenville ministry and Temple lost his job, it was widely reported that he absconded with massive amounts of government stationery and supplies.
Gillray shows the arrogant Earl Temple as a broad-bottom'd Icarus following his father (Daedalus). His wings are made of quills and sealing wax, supplies to which he would presumably have had easy access in his job. Like many of the 18th century political families, Temple's actual father, the Marquess of Buckingham, maintained a lifetime sinecure as Teller of the Exchequer that kept him afloat (or in this case in flight) when he was not in power. Hence the words "Tellership of the Exchequer" on his wings. Temple, apparently, did not follow his example. And by flying in the face of King George (the sun) he certainly brought about his own political demise. In the text, below the image, then, Gillray suggests that the packages handed down to Temple's black servant from a cart labeled "Stationery Office" are intended to "ease his sudden fall."
What he hadn't planned on is that he would once again be impaled by an old witticism of George Tierney's. During a debate in Parliament, Temple had once boasted of his stake in the country. Knowing that Temple's family collected sinecures like others collected antiques, Tierney replied that Temple's stake "seemed to have been stolen out of the public hedge."Etching
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Framed: 16 in x 12 in / 41 cm x 31 cm. Sheet: 13.5in x 9.5 in / 36cm x 26 cm.