Rosalba Carriera’s Four Elements series

In 1746, Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757), the most popular and sought-after pastel painter of Europe in the 18th century, painted four “fancy piece” pastels of the same dimensions (56 x 46 cm), each representing one of the four elements.


The Air in her frothy white gown billowing in the wind, her gaze lifted up and away at a little white bird flying over her shoulder


The Earth, clutching the bounty of the soil with a plump physique and a somewhat serious expression


The Fire, wrapped in a coral red fabric, holding a small brazier


And The Water with a basket of fish, flirtatious posing in the reeds near a river..

I have yet to find out more about this series, now located in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany. I’m curious about why the four-elements conceit continues to be so popular in this century even as the conception of the universe is becoming infinitely more complicated beyond the ancient framework of earth, air, fire, and water.

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