Allegory of the four elements - Air, Water, Earth, Fire
Pastel on paper
The series of the four elements is made in pastel on paper, a technique that was widely used in the eighteenth century. Rosalba Carriera, a Venetian painter, became one of the most requested portraitists by nobles and sovereigns of Europe, very skilled in achieving results of softness, brightness, immediacy and psychological introspection with pastel. The allegorical series formed by four personifications - the continents, the seasons, the elements - are a particularly widespread typology in this period. La Carriera completed this work between 1741 and 1743 for Giovan Francesco Stoppani, apostolic nuncio to the Senate of Venice. The allegories have a portrait cut, are caught in the foreground and their attributes end up in the margin (lower right, except in the Air), integrated with different colors or accessories that clarify their role. Air, in addition to wearing an intense blue cloak, of which a flap is hinted at, holds a little bird with a thread; the Water observes in an absorbed attitude the fish hanging from a sort of fishing line; the Earth shows a bunch of grapes (from this point of view it is very similar to an Autumn Allegory) and wears a garland of flowers; Fire, with its tawny hair, peach-pink dress and small brazier in the hand, is the pastel with the warmest colors. The pastel technique is very practical in some ways, complex in others. Compared to oil on canvas, it is cheaper, and uses more easily transportable materials. It is perfect for the execution of portraits and meets the needs of a prestigious client who takes care of self-representation. On the other hand, it requires mastery of execution, does not admit regrets, and is extremely fragile, in fact a slight contact with the surface is enough to alter the pigments, which require specific fixatives.