Today I am featuring the second of a set of four paintings entitled The Four Elements. This painting completed by Joachim Buckelaer in 1569 is entitled The Four Elements: Earth. In this painting we are again standing in front of a market stall. This time the scene is set in the countryside, outside a large thatched-roof farmhouse, and before us we can see laid out an abundance of fruit and vegetables, symbolising “Earth” as this is where the produce has come from. It was common practice in Dutch and Flemish paintings of the 16th and 17th century to symbolise the Elements by reference to the natural world. Although I have not attempted to count them, I believe there are sixteen different varieties of fruit and vegetables on display in the painting. The painter has used some “artistic licence” when he painted the various fruit and vegetables as not all would be available at the same time of year and of course there was no such thing as refrigeration in the seventeenth century. It is truly a depiction of a “land of plenty” where there is no place for hunger.
The spectrum of colours used by the artist has enhanced the painting. The fruit is painted with such realism. They look so succulent and they lay there tilted slightly towards us to give us an even better view of everything and tempt us to try some of the produce. You almost want to move forward and pick a grape or sample a mulberry. All seems so mouth-watering which is a testament to the artist’s great ability to paint still-life subjects.
It is difficult to decide who are the buyers and who are the sellers in the painting. Before us, we have the two young females in their colourful attire. The lady in the red jacket with her sleeves rolled up has rosy cheeks which has probably come from working outside so much. The lady with the lace cap and yellow sleeved dress would seem to be dressed slightly better than the others and may hold the position of head cook in a wealthy household who has come down to choose the best produce for the ingredients needed for the meals she is about to prepare. I love the way the way Beuckelaer depicts the vegetables tumbling from her hands. It makes you almost want to rush forward and catch the errant cabbage before it hits the ground. To the right of the main figures we see a young man and woman by a well and one wonders if they are the stall holders who use the water from the well to wash the fruit before putting it on display. The man stares out at us with his elbow on the edge of the well as he takes a rest.
Once again the artist has included a scene from the bible into the painting. Look to the left background and you can see in the distance, a small arched bridge, on which Mary and Joseph are crossing. Joseph leads the way on foot guiding the mule on which sits Mary with the infant Jesus and is a portrayal of the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt to avoid the clutches of King Herod.
I love this painting and I love how Beuckelaer has painted the produce. It is so life-like. The colours he has used enhance the painting and make it look so real.