The 4 natural elements in the history of art

Cerere (1839) by Antonio SoláLa Galleria Nazionale


Primordial element considered a link between nature and human beings, in ancient Greek culture the earth is represented by the goddess Demeter, sister of Zeus, protector of agriculture, fertility and harvest; in Roman times, we find in her place Ceres.

Bosco di Fontainebleau (1874) by Giuseppe PalizziLa Galleria Nazionale

There are several variations that the earth element develops throughout the history of art. First of all, the one linked to the broader meaning of landscape: the artists turn their gaze to the earth and the natural world to draw inspiration from them.

Un mare d'erba (Composizione) (1964 - 1964) by Carla AccardiLa Galleria Nazionale

In the classicist currents the historical dimension of nature is mainly exalted, in Romanticism the grandiose and wild element of the same, while Impressionism investigates the landscape in search of its plausible optical reproduction.

1 mc di terra, 2 mc di terra (1967) by Pino PascaliLa Galleria Nazionale

A precise trend is represented by the land understood as a paradigm of peasant activities, therefore associated with a social and identity aspect.

RAI 4 (1997) by Monica CarocciLa Galleria Nazionale

In particular, it is the artists of the second half of the 19th century who narrate life in the fields of rural realities.

Villa Borghese - Parco dei Daini (1910) by Giacomo BallaLa Galleria Nazionale

Vincent Van Gogh looked to the latter for the creation of a series of works that share the same naturalism of the subjects, often portrayed live, linked to the rural world, as in the painting Semeur au soleil couchant (1888).

Composizione (Superfcie lunare) (1965) by Giulio TurcatoLa Galleria Nazionale

In fact, in the twentieth century the earth, sand or other material masses see their entry onto the canvas. Take, for example, the works of Jean Dubuffet or Giulio Turcato. The latter, influenced by the latest scientific discoveries, began to create the Lunar Surfaces series.

Paysage anthropmorphe (1960) by Bona Tibertelli De PisisLa Galleria Nazionale

The characteristics of the clayey material are instead investigated by the artists of the Arte Povera period, such as Alighiero Boetti in the work For an alienated man (1968) in which he uses a fresh stucco that hardens, interrupting the possibility of engraving on it.

Piazza d'Italia con statua (1937) by Giorgio de ChiricoLa Galleria Nazionale

In the second half of the 1960s, the earth became the undisputed protagonist in the works attributable to Land Art and the artists began to intervene directly on the landscape, modifying its natural configuration.

Leonessa (2017) by Davide RivaltaLa Galleria Nazionale

Today, in the artistic field, the earth element is frequently used to convey messages in favor of environmental protection and preservation.

Credits: Story

Written by Giulia Lotti. Photo by Google and Adriano Mura

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