'Phoenix and the Four Elements' – Bristol, England - Atlas Obscura

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'Phoenix and the Four Elements'

An alchemical monument that represents "Earth, Air, Fire, and Water." 

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An enigmatic monument stands in front of the Freshford House building in Bristol, a bronze sculpture of the mythical phoenix spreading its wings. Its four-sided pedestal comes with reliefs that depict nude female figures representing the four elements and is rich in alchemical symbolism.

The earth elemental is depicted as a pregnant woman surrounded by orchids; air strides with pride, her hair flowing in the wind, water flows upstream, and fire seems to emerge from flames. The woman’s face is hidden by the fire. Above them, the phoenix rises from its ashes, reborn as a new entity.

Coming across this sculpture, curious onlookers might wonder, what is the significance of such a statue? The truth, while uncertain, may be rather simple and lie in its origin. The monument was created by British artist Thomas Nugent in 1985, a commissioned piece from a company named Phoenix Assurance. The phoenix form was likely chosen due to the company’s name The alchemical symbolism was the artist taking creative license in interpretation.

Know Before You Go

Kitty-corner/diagonal from St. Mary's Redcliffe Church, on the north-west section of the roundabout.

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