Within each illustration are inscribed five or six Latin phrases followed by citations to verses from the Bible. The Latin phrases are not translations of the verses, but act more as prompts for contemplation. In some cases the verses refer to the element itself, as in Fire, where a scene of a castle burning is accompanied by a reference to the Genesis verse, “the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfurous fire from the Lord out of heaven.” In others, their relationship to the imagery is more oblique, such as in Air, where beside a sailing ship and a man pointing to a compass is a verse from Proverbs admonishing, “A close neighbor is better than a distant brother” — with the ship perhaps referring to voyages that could separate loved ones.
The original drawing for Earth is in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (see References below). The female figure in the drawing was replaced by the figure of Saint Alexius in the print, but otherwise, the drawing is a mirror image of the engraving. The original drawing for Fire sold at auction in 2014 for 42,500 euros (see References).
Air is dedicated to Saint Sebastian, “patron against the plague,” with the motto “Contemplate the skies” in the lower margin. It shows the various effects of air on humanity both positive and negative. On the left, labeled “Sport,” children fly a kite and play with other wind-driven toys. On the right, labeled “Exploitation,” are two men with a sailing ship behind them, one of who points to a compass. The lower center shows people who have died in an epidemic being loaded into carts to be taken away, apparently showing the ill effects of air, as it was understood at the time to spread disease. Above the scene, Saint Sebastian holds a shield and arrows beneath the Latin phrase, “Heals the broken-hearted.”
Water is dedicated to Saint Xavier, “patron against storms,” with the motto “The Springs of Water” in the lower margin. The saint, dressed in a monk’s robe ornamented by two scallop shells, sits above a tempestuous maritime scene of ships being tossed by heavy seas as a bolt of lightning flashes in the distance. On the left is a fanciful architectural structure upon which a putto on the roof holds a hose spouting water that is being pumped by two boys from a wagon on the ground. On the right is a Baroque fountain representing Neptune with horses and other figures emerging from the sea. In the sea behind it is a boat likely representing Noah’s Ark and the inscription “Those Lost in Water.”
Fire is dedicated to Saint Florian, “patron of fire,” with the motto in the lower margin, “But the fire never says: It is enough.” The saint is dressed in armor with a plumed helmet and is accompanied by an angel pouring water from a vessel and the inscription, “Who through faith subdued kingdoms — put out the attack by fire.” On the left are the words “Artist” and “Soldier,” and scenes of fireworks going off in the sky at the top and iron workers below. In the central scene townspeople fill up buckets of water to fight a fire raging in the castle behind them. A verse on the right refers to the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis under the word “Revenge.”
Earth is dedicated to Saint Alexius, “patron against earthquake,” with the motto, “He divided the land unto them.” The saint, dressed in a monk’s robe, presides over the central scene of people fleeing a town damaged by an earthquake, under the inscription, “Will not quake in the future.” The beneficial aspects of Earth are shown in the center foreground, where an allegorical woman holding a sheaf of grain and gesturing to a basket of fruit; on the left where a man on a ladder picks fruit; and in the right foreground where a man harvests grapes. Through an arch behind the grapevines is a peaceful scene labeled “Beautiful” under the inscription, “There is a garden of Eden.”
Johann Wolfgang Baumgartner was an Austrian painter, draftsman and engraver in the Rococo style, based in Augsburg, Germany. He began as a landscape painter, and later became known for his architectural subjects. He executed frescoes for the churches of Gersthofen and Eggenhausen in the vicinity of Augsburg and worked at the Meersburg Palace. He made many drawings for engravings. His works are in museums around the world, including the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, but perhaps the largest collection of his works is in the Tyrolean State Museum in Innsbruck, Austria.
Johann Baptist Klauber was a German engraver, printmaker and publisher based in Augsburg. He collaborated with his brother, Joseph Sebastian Klauber on some of his works, and also engraved allegories of the four seasons and the four elements after Johann Wolfgang Baumgartner.
Full texts on each print:
Elementum Aeris: S. Sebastianus Patronus contra pestem (upper left). Contemplare aethera [Contemplate the skies]. Iob. 15. v. 5 (lower margin center). Quasi aërum verberanus [Like a man beating the air]. 1. Cor. 9. v. 26. Sanat contritos corde [Heals the broken-hearted]. Pslm. 146. v. 3. Accepi comuneni aërem [I received air]. Sap. 7. v. 3. In turbine enim conteret [The storms to destroy]. Iob. 9. v. 17. Quali quis ventum teneat [Inquiries into the wind]. Prov. 27. v. 10. With sections labeled LUSUI, USUI, RUINAE, and ABUSUI [Sport, Use, Ruins, and Exploitation].
Elementum Aqua: S. Xavierus Patronus contra tempestates maris (upper left). Apparuerunt fonts aquarum. Ps. 17. v. 16 (lower margin center). NATURALIS. Fous ascendebat de terra. Gen. 2. v. 6. In Verbo ejus stetit aqua. Eccli 39 v. 22. MEDICA. De fonte aquae vitae. Apoc. 21 v. 1. ULTRIX. Illos perdidisti in aqua. Sap. 13 v. 5. ARTIFICIALIS. Non invenerunt ignem, se aquam. 2. Mac. 1 v. 20.
Elementum Ignis: S. Florianus Patronus contra incendia (upper left). Ignis vero nunquam dicit: sufficit. Prov. 30 v. 16. (lower margin center). Qui per fidem vicerunt regna — extinxerunt impetum ignis. Hebr. 11. v. 33-34. Ut evertat Urbes. 1. Reg. 23 v. 10 (or 16???). Quae coquenda sunt coquite. Exod. 16. v. 23. Pluit — sulphur et ignem. Gen. 19. v. 24. With sections labeled ARTIFEX, MILES, ULTOR, and COQUUS.
Elementum Terrae: S. Alexius Patronus contra terrae motus (upper left). Distribuit eis terram. Act. 13. v. 19 (lower margin center). Ultra non faciam commoveri. 4. Reg. 21. v. 8. Terra dedit fructum suum. Ps. 66. v. 7. Facta est ut hort voluptatis. Ezech. 36. v. 35. Aperi eis thesaurum tuum. Num. 20. v. 6. Dabis eis bibere vinum. Ierem. 35. v. 2. With sections labeled FRUGIFERA, PRETIOSA, PULCHRA, and DULCIS.
Publication credits: I.W. Baumgartner delin. Klauber Cath. Sc. et exc. Aug. Vind. C.P.S.C.M. [J.W. Baumgartner drew it, Klauber engraved and published it in Augsburg, with privileges of His Imperial Majesty].
Condition: Generally very good, recently professionally cleaned and deacidified, with some remaining toning, wear, handling. Outer dimensions of sheets vary slightly, but can be matted and framed the same size as a set.
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 1, p. 476. Vol. 5, p. 262.
“Elementum Terrae.” Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. https://art.famsf.org/johann-wolfgang-baumgartner/elementum-terrae-allegory-earth-19693276 (1 March 2019).
“Johann Wolfgang Baumgartner, Allegory of Fire.” Karl & Faber. 9 May 2014. https://www.karlundfaber.de/produkt/allegorie-des-feuers/ (1 March 2019).