This beautifully preserved panel was almost certainly originally conceived as one of a set of allegories of the four elements, the other three, as the present work, probably following the designs of Jan Brueghel the Elder's famous set of Allegories in the Galleria Doria Pamphilij, Rome.1 The Pamphilij paintings, also on panel, are of the same dimensions as this painting and differ only in minor details.
These compositions were immensely popular throughout the 17th century as today. Jan Brueghel the Younger, Van Kessel's uncle, is also known to have made several copies of the Allegory of Air, each of them with figures by Hendrick van Balen (who was responsible for the figures in the elder Brueghel's originals) or his circle.2 Many further replicas painted in and outside the workshops of both Brueghels survive, as do a small number of much smaller versions by Van Kessel himself (see the paintings sold in these Rooms, 10 July 1974, lot 128, and 10 December 1980, lot 329).
1. K. Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere. Die Gemälde, Cologne 1979, p. 599, cat. no. 249, reproduced p. 370, fig. 440.
2. K. Ertz, Jan Brueghel the Younger, Freren 1981, cat. nos. 200, 208, 208a.
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