The 4 natural elements in the history of art

Giove (1838) by Pietro GalliLa Galleria Nazionale


Physically constant but shapeless presence, the element of air appears in the history of art of ancient civilizations through its divine personification: in Greek mythology magnificently represented by Zeus.

L’identico e il differente (2003) by Daniela De LorenzoLa Galleria Nazionale

The presence of different declinations on the air theme is also relevant. Due to its immateriality, in fact, the air is inevitably linked to some precise manifestations, such as that of the wind, which in the Middle Ages lost its divine essence to become a meteorological symbol.

Volano alberi spogli come radici (1995) by Andrea SantarlasciLa Galleria Nazionale

Not personified but represented through its effects on things, the element of the wind is investigated, among the first, by Leonardo Da Vinci who depicts plants and trees that bend, gusts that wrap themselves in swirls of lines that suggest the movement of the air.

Siebzehnjanuarneunzehn- hundertvierundneunzig (1993/1994) by Ugo RondinoneLa Galleria Nazionale

Leonardo also intuits that the consistency of the air can modify the color and sharpness of what we see, and he gives his pictorial representation through pictorial technical expedients such as nuanced and a precise variation of blue color.

Dimostrazione interventista - Bandiere all’Altare della Patria (1915) by Giacomo BallaLa Galleria Nazionale

The presence of air sees a significant role in artistic representations when smoke and steam begin to appear in the works. Always linked to these dynamics is the use carried out by the Futurists, in which the theme can also be associated with the trend of aeropainting.

Nuvole #2 (2005) by Luca RentoLa Galleria Nazionale

In reflecting on the role of air in art, one cannot fail to mention, by metaphorical meaning, the presence, in the representations of the natural habitat, of clouds, elements moved by the air itself that exist in the atmosphere.

Ruderi sul prato (1964) by Pino PascaliLa Galleria Nazionale

Up to arriving, in the contemporary age, in series such as Paesaggi anemici by Mario Schifano, or even works such as Ruderi sul prato (1964) by Pino Pascali in which the cloud totally loses its ethereal consistency to deal with the strength of the columns.

Mobile (1958 ca.) by Alexander CalderLa Galleria Nazionale

Then there is a trend that follows the creation of suspended works, symbolically endowed with the lightness of the ether, such as the Hanging Mobiles by Alexander Calder (1932-1976) or the works by Giulio Paolini such as Here and beyond (from zero to nine) of 2019.

Qui e oltre (da zero a nove) (2019) by Giulio PaoliniLa Galleria Nazionale

Elusive and invisible, the element of air has found a partnership with conceptual art. Think of the ready-made 50 cc of Paris Air (1919), in which Marcel Duchamp encloses the air taken in the city of Paris in a cruet, transporting it to New York.

Nuvole #1 (2005) by Luca RentoLa Galleria Nazionale

But the extreme point of abstraction is reached by the famous Zone de sensibilité picturale immatérielle (1959) by Yves Klein who, riding his personal reflection on the concept of immateriality and emptiness, engages in the sale of "spaces of air" in exchange for gold pure.

Credits: Story

Written by Giulia Lotti. Photo by Google and Adriano Mura.

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