Collection Highlight: Allegory of Earth

We have reached the height of summer, and now are witnessing its very slow decline. The decline, in fact, is almost undetectable considering that it’s going to be in the triple digits here for the rest of this week…

With talk of seasons, thoughts turn to the earth. I thought it the perfect time to better acquaint myself with one of my favorite paintings in the gallery.

The Van Balen family and the Brueghel family were frequent collaborators, and one of their favorite subjects was the four elements (earth, air, wind, fire). The Van Balens were known for their figures and nudes, and the Brueghels for their landscapes: it is likely that this painting went from the Brueghel studio, replete with the natural world, to the Van Balen’s in order to receive its human forms.

"An Allegory of Earth." Jan Brueghel the Younger, Hendrik van Balen, Flemish. 1630-1635

“An Allegory of Earth.” Jan Brueghel the Younger, Hendrik van Balen, Flemish. 1630-1635

In Allegory of Earth, we see depictions of a rich and fertile landscape, and nature’s bounty in the blooming flowers and fruitful harvest. This lushness is highlighted with a celestial, religious scene in the sky. Both the earthly and heavenly beings appear set to partake: the earthlings harvesting food, and those in heaven sat down at a table. Those on earth work to pass the bounty heavenward, where the gods are prepared to feast.

One definition of allegory includes “The representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.” Knowing this, and from what we see represented in this picture, how might we interpret the contrasts and commonalities between the earth scene and the heavenly scene? Tells us in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter!

(PS   The UMFA has great air conditioning, so why not escape the heat with us?)


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