The 4 natural elements in the history of art

La creazione della luce (1913 ca.) by Gaetano PreviatiLa Galleria Nazionale


Naturally ephemeral, fire has no shape, weight or density while being visually tangible. These multiple characteristics have always fascinated artists who have ventured over time both in its representation and in its use as an active presence in the work of art.

Notte (1986) by NunzioLa Galleria Nazionale

The element of fire brings with it a long series of meanings that perfectly embody the conception of nature as mother and stepmother at the same time for its generating and destructive effects.

Ricostruzione del dinosauro (1966) by Pino PascaliLa Galleria Nazionale

The representations of fire as a devourer belong to the latter trend; examples of this are the numerous paintings depicting the fire of Rome in 64 AD, in which the artists portray the image of the capital covered in flames.

Vulcano (1844) by Pietro TeneraniLa Galleria Nazionale

Belonging to the vein that sees nature as a generous mother, there are the representations of fire as an element tamed by human beings and adapted to their daily needs. In fact, between the Renaissance and the Baroque, fire appears in the many representations.

Misura di luce (1963/1964) by Antonio CalderaraLa Galleria Nazionale

In Christian times fire becomes a sign of purification, it takes on theological, ecclesial and liturgical meaning, used as a sign of martyrdom and visions of saints. In its primitive conception, it is represented as an essential source of light and heat.

Le Paysage en feu (1928) by René MagritteLa Galleria Nazionale

On the other hand, Surrealists like Magritte (Le Paysage en feu, 1928) look to its aura of mystery. The avant-gardes of the post-war period refer to the use of fire as a means of artistic creation, differing in the specific ways of using the element.

Cellotex A 5 (1980) by Alberto BurriLa Galleria Nazionale

As a combustion tool it is used in the works of Alberto Burri, who subjects various materials such as wood and plastic to the transforming power of fire. Equally used in view of its impact on matter is also in the works of contemporary sculptors such as Nunzio.

La pazza (1905) by Giacomo BallaLa Galleria Nazionale

The artists of Arte Povera were certainly attracted to fire, such as Jannis Kounellis who in 1967 inserted a blowtorch lit with effects of light, heat and noise in the work Margherita di fuoco. Fire also becomes the protagonist of performances, such as with Marina Abramović.

Credits: Story

Written by Giulia Lotti. Photo by Adriano Mura.

Credits: All media
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