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Four Elements

water air earth fire

Derived from classical scholarship and imagery, the Four Elements (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water) may be depicted in early Christian and medieval art as personified figures or animals, chosen to indicate the appropriate properties. They are frequently illustrated in medieval encyclopedias and scientific treatises and may also appear in scenes such as the *Crucifixion, *Last Judgment, *Resurrection of the Dead, and various other apocalyptic contexts.


Terra (Earth) is often personified by a partly clothed female figure who suckles children, snakes, or other animals at her breasts. Aer (Air) may be shown as a figure riding on an eagle or accompanied by birds and the *Four Winds. Ignis Page 93  (Fire) holds a lighted torch, may have a flaming head and ride on a lion. Aqua (Water) frequently appears as a river god, pouring water from an urn, accompanied by *fish. The elements may also be abbreviated into symbols: a flaming triangle or flames for fire; a disk, clouds, or light rays for air; a flower or waves for water; and a square, rectangular platform, or plants, for earth. Medieval authors and illustrators frequently connected the Four Elements with numerous other foursomes (Four Evangelists, *Four Humors, *Four Seasons, Four Rivers of Paradise; creating grand conceptual, and pictorially diagrammed, schemes of the universe.

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