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Last update
2022-05-13 06:16:39

    The Four Elements

    Louis Finson, 1611 Oil on Canvas


    Classical elements typically refer to water, earth, fire, air, and (later) aether, which were proposed to explain the nature and complexity of all matter in terms of simpler substances. Ancient cultures in Greece, Tibet, and India had similar lists, sometimes referring in local languages to “air” as “wind” and the fifth element as “void”.

    These different cultures and even individual philosophers had widely varying explanations concerning their attributes and how they related to observable phenomena as well as cosmology. Sometimes these theories overlapped with mythology and were personified in deities. Some of these interpretations included atomism (the idea of very small, indivisible portions of matter), but other interpretations considered the elements to be divisible into infinitely small pieces without changing their nature.

    While the classification of the material world in ancient Indian, Hellenistic Egypt, and ancient Greece into Air, Earth, Fire and Water was more philosophical, during the Islamic Golden Age medieval middle eastern scientists used practical, experimental observation to classify materials. In Europe, the Ancient Greek concept, devised by Empedocles, evolved into the system of Aristotle, which evolved slightly into the medieval system, which for the first time in Europe became subject to experimental verification in the 1600s, during the Scientific Revolution.

    Modern science does not support the classical elements as the material basis of the physical world. Atomic theory classifies atoms into more than a hundred chemical elements such as oxygen, iron, and mercury. These elements form chemical compounds and mixtures, and under different temperatures and pressures, these substances can adopt different states of matter. The most commonly observed states of solid, liquid, gas, and plasma share many attributes with the classical elements of earth, water, air, and fire, respectively, but these states are due to similar behavior of different types of atoms at similar energy levels, and not due to containing a certain type of atom or a certain type of substance.

    Louis Finson, Lodewijk Finson or Ludovicus Finsonius (between 1574 and 1580 – 1617) was a Flemish painter, draughtsman, copyist and art dealer. He painted portraits, religious compositions, allegorical paintings and genre scenes. Moving to Italy early in his career, he became one of the first Flemish followers of Caravaggio whom he knew personally in Naples. He produced a number of copies after works by Caravaggio. He worked for a number of years in various cities in France where he created altarpieces and portraits. He is known for being the co-owner together with his fellow Flemish painter and business partner Abraham Vinck of two paintings by Caravaggio. Louis Finson played a major role in the Northern Caravaggesque movement through his own works as well as his role as an art dealer.

    Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873)
    "Princess Louise of Prussia" (1856)
    Oil on canvas
    Located in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia

    Princess Louise Marie Elisabeth of Prussia (1838-1923) was Grand Duchess of Baden from 1856 to 1907 as the wife of Grand Duke Frederick I. She was the second child and only daughter of Wilhelm I, German Emperor, and Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, the younger sister of Frederick William ("Fritz")--the future German Emperor Frederick III--and the aunt of Emperor Wilhelm II.