Adriaen Collaert’s Four Elements

Flemish artist Adriaen Collaert (1560-1619) produced the engravings, pictured here, which depict personifications of Aristotle’s classical elements: Earth, Water, Air & Fire, printed in a wunderbuch in the collection of Jean de Poligny. Now located at the Rijksmuseum.
Prior to modern atomic theory, these elements were postulated to be the prima materia whose infinite combinations were the physical composites of all things in the Universe. Each engraving was modeled on paintings by the Flemish master de Vos the Elder.ย 

Air, perhaps Aeolus himself, conducts the creatures of the air in their activities. Birds, insects and the angels of the wind are at his command.
Earth, personified as wild nature in Cybele, holds the works of nature and man in her hands. Her head wizened and her breasts sagging from their labor. New life and death are seated at her feet. Creatures of the land walk over the vast hillside.
Fire! Divine Helios sits in the wheel of the Sun encircled with brilliant flames. The phoenix and the salamander (fire elementals) come to him. The world below is cast alight.
Water, as seafoam-born Venus, who is surrounded by the hidden bounty of the mighty sea. She holds the tools of human navigation in her benediction. Her throne of seashells is carried by the Moon, which in its turning controls the tides.

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