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Abundance with the Four Elements
Brueghel the Elder, Jan (Jan 'Velvet' Brueghel); Clerck, Hendrik de
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Brueghel the Elder, Jan (Jan 'Velvet' Brueghel)
Brussels (Belgium), 1568 - Antwerp (Belgium), 1625
Clerck, Hendrik de
Brussels, 1570 - Brussels, 1630

Abundance with the Four Elements

1606. Oil on copperplate.
Not on display

In this painting, Ceres, goddess of agriculture and fertility, is surrounded by fruits and flowers, pictured as the personification of Abundance holding the horn of plenty in her hands. The history of the horn of plenty is taken from two texts by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE-CE 17/18), Metamorphoses (IX, 80-100) and Book of Days (V, 121-24). The idea of prosperity is completed by the personifications of the four elements in the form of two female figures on the ground beside her, and two males, in the air. Below, the allegorical figures of Earth and Water are accompanied by different types of sea creatures, fruits, and flowers, which they offer to the goddess, emphasizing her central position by their postures. Above, the figure symbolizing Fire holds a torch, while the personification of Air is surrounded by birds. Their pictorial depiction refers to the inherent equilibrium among the elements and their presence at the origin of nature. The relationship of the four elements to the universe was first set forth in Aristotle´s (384-322 BCE) Physics, in which earth, water, fire, and air are presented as the four substances that constitute the entire world. The subject´s representation alluded to nature and its sensual beauty, which is emphasized here by the nudity of the figures, most of which are female. In this case, the artist chose Ceres as the personification, as given in Cesare Ripa´s (1560-1622) Iconologia, published in 1593. Toward the end of his life, Jan Brueghel the Elder dedicated a portion of his production to allegorical series of the senses, abundance, and the four elements, which were very popular themes in Flemish painting of the seventeenth century. He often collaborated with other artists, as was common practice in seventeenth-century Antwerp. In this instance, the Brussels artist Hendrik de Clerck painted the figures. Jan Brueghel the Elder´s contribution in this series was to include these allegories in a landscape, allowing him to display his knowledge of the visible world as well as his extraordinary technical mastery in the depiction of animals, flowers, and natural elements. The Spanish monarchy had a fondness for Jan Brueghel the Elder´s works, as well as this subject in particular. Other examples were already present in the Spanish Royal Collections, including Brueghel and Hendrik van Balen´s Abundance with the Four Elements (P). The present painting´s arrival in Spain is documented in 1727 in the collection of King Philip V. In 1746, it hung alongside many other paintings in the monarch´s bedroom in the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso. After a period at the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, it entered the Real Museo de Pinturas (now the Museo Nacional del Prado) with many other allegories painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder. The work was confined to the sala reservada, where most of the nude paintings were hung, including those that had previously been in the hall of the same name at the Real Academia de San Fernando (Text drawn from Suárez Blanco, A.: Splendor, Myth, and Vision. Nudes from the Prado, 2016, pp. 98-99).


Technical data

Inventory number
Brueghel the Elder, Jan (Jan 'Velvet' Brueghel); Clerck, Hendrik de
Abundance with the Four Elements
Height: 51 cm; Width: 64 cm
Royal Collection (Collection of Philip V, Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia, 1727; Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Bedroom, 1746, no. 218; Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Bedroom, 1774, no. 218; Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Madrid, Cabinet Adjacent to the Rest Room ("gabinete contiguo a los retretes"), 1794, no. 218; Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Seventh Room of the Prince’s Quarters, 1818, no. 218; "Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII", Madrid, Sala Reservada, 1834, no. 45).

Bibliography +

Inventario: Palacio del Real Sitio de San Ildefonso. La Granja. Inventario general de Pinturas, Muebles y alhajas de la Reina Nuestra Señora que tiene el Palacio del Real Sitio de San Ildefonso, VII, Madrid, 1746, pp. 13, nº218.

Bernt, Walther, The Netherlandish painters of the seventeenth century, Phaidon, Múnich, 1969, pp. lám. 239.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, La Escuela Flamenca del Siglo XVII, Ediciones Alfiz, Madrid, 1983, pp. 65.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 146.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. nº1667.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, El siglo de Rubens en el Museo del Prado: catálogo razonado, Prensa Ibérica, Barcelona, 1995, pp. 358.

Ayala Mallory, Nina, La pintura flamenca del siglo XVII, Alianza editorial, Madrid, 1995, pp. 32 / lám. 16.

Cuadrillero, Jaime, El poder universal de Cupido. Otto Vaenius y Jan van Kessel, emblemistas amorosos, Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, 1996, pp. 17 / lám. 4.

Pieter Breughel de Jonge (1564-1637/8) - Jan Brueghel de Oud..., Luca Verlag Lingen, 1998, pp. 225-227.

Aterido Fernández, Ángel; Martínez Cuesta, Juan; Pérez Preciado, José Juan, Colecciones de pinturas de Felipe V e Isabel Farnesio. Inventarios Reales, II, Fundación de Apoyo de la Historia del Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2004, pp. 386.

Ertz, K. Nitze-Ertz, C., Jan Brueghel der Ältere (1568-1625). Kritischer katalog der gemälde, III, Luca Verlag, Lingen, 2010, pp. 1082-1083.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Las aves en el Museo del Prado, SEO/BirdLife, 2010, pp. 130/131-132,220.

Suárez Blanco, A., 'J. Brueghel the Elder, H. de Clerck. Abundance with the Four Elements'' En:, Splendor, Myth, and Vision: Nudes from the Prado, Clark Art Institute; Museo Nacional del Prado,, 2016, pp. 98-99, n. 8.

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1873-1907. Núm. 1235.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1667.
Brueghel y Klerc / 1667. Los Cuatro Elementos. / En el centro esta representada la naturaleza en una ninfa coronada de espigas y amapolas, teniendo el cuerno de la abundancia lleno de frutos de toda especie. En la parte superior se ven dos geniecillos (cobre.) / Alto 1 pie, 10 pulg; ancho 2 pies, 3 pulg, 6 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1668.

Inv. Fernando VII, Aranjuez, 1814-1818. Núm. 218.
Quarto del Principe [...] Septima pieza [...] 218 / lamina 3 cuartas ancho 2 tercias alto pais florido con los cuatro elementos estos de Brugul y el pais de otra mano

Inv. Felipe V, La Granja, 1746. Núm. 218.
218 / Un Pays original en Lamina, de Fluel Brugol, y las Figuras de Rotenhaemer que representa los quatero Elementos, con muchas Frutas, Flores, y Conchas. tiene media vara, y dos dedos de alto, otra y once de ancho. Marco dorado, bronceado, Tallado de medio relieve...1

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Aranjuez, 1794. Núm. 218.
Gavinete Contiguo a los retretes [...] 218 / Una Lamina de 2 pies y quarto de largo y uno y tres quartos de alto Pais con los quatro Elementos. Este de Brugul y las figuras de Rotensharmer... 6000

Inv. Carlos III, La Granja, 1774. Núm. 218.
218 / Otra pintura cobre media vara y dos dedos de alto media y un dedo de ancho los quatro elementos abundancia de grutas flores y conchas su autor es Fruel Brugul = en la pieza del dormitorio en 2.500

Inv. Testamentaría Fernando VII, Real Museo, Sala Reservada, 1834. Núm. 45.
Cuarenta y cinco. La Naturaleza en medio de los cuatro elementos. J. Brueghel Cobre 7.180

Inscriptions +

Cross of Burgundy or Cross of Saint Andrew, collection’s mark belonging to Felipe V. Front, lower right corner

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed. Frame, back, upper bar

Inscribed with chalk. Frame, back, lower bar

[G. L.]
Inscribed with chalk. Back, Upper left area

Inscribed with chalk. Back, Upper central area

Inscribed in black. Frame, back, lower bar

C*. No 218 / La Abundancia / Brugul.
Handwritten label in black ink. Frame, back, upper bar

M. N. Prado / M 00738
Handwritten label. Frame, back, lower bar

Inscribed with chalk. Back, Upper left area

[... manca X]
Inscribed in white. Frame, back, upper bar

Exhibitions +

Splendor, Myth and Vision: Nudes from the Prado
Williamstown MA
12.06.2016 - 10.10.2016

Update date: 29-11-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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