Skip to main content
The Four Elements: Fire
Joachim Beuckelaer
/

This large and well-stocked kitchen is a hive of industry. Four female servants prepare and cook food while a young man perches on a stool before the fire, swigging from an earthenware jug. Pots and pans litter the brick floor and every available surface seems stacked with produce.

This is one of four large paintings in which food is used to symbolise the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, with biblical scenes in the background. Here, in the back room, is Christ in the house of Martha and Mary. When Martha complained of her sister’s laziness in leaving her to do all the work, Christ replied that Mary had chosen better by sitting at his feet and listening to him.

Beuckelaer often put his signature in half-hidden places; here, it is on the edge of the sideboard. The date, 1570, is on the lintel above the doorway.

Key facts
Artist Joachim Beuckelaer
Artist dates probably about 1535; died 1575
Full title The Four Elements: Fire
Group The Four Elements
Date made 1570
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 158.2 × 215.4 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 2001
Inventory number NG6588
Location in Gallery Room 14
Download image
Download low-resolution image

Download an 800px wide, 72dpi copy of this image.

License this image

License and download a high resolution image for reproductions up to A3 size from the National Gallery Picture Library.

License image
Download low resolution image

This image is licensed for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons agreement.

Examples of non-commercial use are:

  • Research, private study, or for internal circulation within an educational organisation (such as a school, college or university)
  • Non-profit publications, personal websites, blogs, and social media

The image file is 800 pixels on the longest side.

As a charity, we depend upon the generosity of individuals to ensure the collection continues to engage and inspire. Help keep us free by making a donation today.

Yes, I'd like to donate
Or
Download low resolution image

You must agree to the Creative Commons terms and conditions to download this image.

Creative Commons Logo

The Four Elements

/

Packed with fish, fruit, vegetables, birds and animals, these four big pictures are like giant stage sets, teeming with life. Although superficially market and kitchen scenes, the different types of food represent the four elements: vegetables for earth, fish for water, poultry for air and game for fire. In the backgrounds are biblical scenes.

Beuckelaer has created an impression of great abundance and variety, although the foods shown were readily available to ordinary Netherlanders for most of the sixteenth century. However, these pictures were painted at a time of political and religious repression and severe economic recession. They perhaps show a remembered golden age, when food was plentiful.

The group may well have been commissioned in Antwerp by a foreigner, probably the vastly wealthy and cultured Fernão Ximenes, Consul for the Portuguese Nation. By 1884 the paintings were in Florence, in the Palazzo Panciatichi-Ximenes d'Aragona.

;