The Four Elements: Water

Image credit: National Trust Images

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Water is represented here by a figure who is probably one of the nymphs seduced by Neptune (the god can be seen riding in triumph on the sea in the background). She is surrounded by all the fantastic creatures of the sea on the land and two flying fish hover in the sky. Many versions of sets of allegorical depictions of the four elements came out of the Brueghels' Antwerp studio. The sets were popular in Italy, particularly with their patron Cardinal Federico Borromeo (1564–1631), Archbishop of Milan and founder of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, and his assistant Ercole Bianchi, who enjoyed a set with naked figures. In Spain, Philip IV distributed sets among the ladies of the court. The sets evolved from an individual piece showing all the elements together in a unified scene (each bearing appropriate attributes and including a profusion of botanical and zoological detail) to four separate works.

National Trust, Kingston Lacy

Wimborne Minster


The Four Elements: Water




oil on copper


H 47.5 x W 82.5 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

bequeathed by Ralph Bankes, 1981

Work type



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Normally on display at

National Trust, Kingston Lacy

Wimborne Minster, Dorset BH21 4EA England

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