An Allegory of Water ( Amphitrite ) - Nationalmuseum - 22289
Description in Flemish paintings C. 1600-C. 1800 III, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 2010, cat.no. 51:
Technical notes: The support consists of a single
piece of plain weave fabric with a coarse and dense structure.
The tacking edges have been trimmed along all
four sides. The painting is lined and mounted on a nonoriginal
The preparation consists of what may be a white chalk
ground. The paint layer is opaque and rendered without
impasto. The painting technique is coarse and imperfectly
rendered in a rather mechanical way. The original
green colour of the leaves has changed into a brownish
The painting is in bad condition. The painting underwent
conservation treatment in 1921.
Provenance: Bequeathed by P. F. Wahlberg in 1914.
Bibliography: NM Cat. 1958, p. 6 (as Hendrick van
Balen); NM Cat. 1990, p. 57 (as workshop of Jan
A series depicting the four elements: Water, Earth, Fire
and Air was originally painted by Jan Brueghel I and
Hendrick van Balen for Cardinal Federico Borromeo
in Milan between 1608 and 1621.1 This suite of painting
is today divided between several collections. Earth
painted before 1605 and Air dated 1621 are today in
Musée du Louvre in Paris.2 The Allegory of Fire,
dated 1608 and the Allegory of Water from 1614 are
still in Milan in Bibliotheca Ambrosiana.3
The popularity of the subject led to the production
of a number of versions of the series in the studio of
Jan Brueghel I and his pupils Jan Brueghel II and Jan
van Kessel. The Nationalmuseum’s painting, An Allegory
of Water, appears to be a copy of a composition in
the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lyon, painted by Jan
Brueghel II.4 Similar replicas and copies can
be found in a number of collections.5
Water is personified by a young woman, Amphitrite,
who is seated at the foot of a tree surrounded by verdure
and next to a stream full of fish. She is leaning on
an urn and holds a coral in her hand. To the right can
be seen two playful putti and there are tritons and
naiads in the background. Various types of water creatures,
shellfish and reptiles are crawling on the ground.
In the air a flying fish is visible, an imaginative feature
that already formed part of Jan Brueghel I’s Allegory of
the Elements from 1604 and which is based on information
in contemporary encyclopaedias and books on
angling. Watercourses in warmer climates were said to
have fish that attained such speeds through the water
that they could pierce its surface and fly above it.6
1 About the correspondence between the Cardinal and Jan Brueghel concerning
this commission see Ertz 1979, pp. 363–364.
2 See Ertz 1979, no. 342 and 372.
3 See Ertz 1979, no. 190 and 302.
4 ”Allégorie de l’Eau”, Jan Brueghel I, landscape by Brueghel; figures by
Van Balen, (Lyon. Museés des Beaux Arts), oil on wood, 46 x 83. See Paris
1977, p. 51, no. 15.
5 Attributed to Jan Brueghel I: Rockoxhuis, Antwerp;- Sold at Christie’s,
lot 10, June 1967;- attributed to Jan Brueghel II: Galerie Sanct-Lucas,
Vienna 1964–1965, oil on copper, 71 x 88, no. 7;- Jan Brueghel I’s workshop:
De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco;- Jan Brueghels II’s
workshop: Galerie Pulitzer in London;- J. van Kessel: sold in London,
Sotheby, 1967; - Jan Brueghel I: sold in London, Sotheby, July 1993;
Brueghel II – Jan Brueghel I, Koninklijk Museum, Antwerp, 1998, pp.
228–232; Jan Brueghel I – H. van Balen, Galeria Doria Pamphilj, Rome;
See K. Ertz, Jan Brueghel the Elder Die Gemälde, Cologne 1979, pp.
371, 374, figs. 441, 446; See also Christopher White, The Later Flemish
Pictures in The Collection of Her Majesty the Queen of England, London
2007, nos. 11–14.
6 According to Giorgio Liberale’s Fish Book (1563–1579) and Aldovandrini’s
101 [End] Svenska: Se även beskrivning i den engelska versionen