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    Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

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    Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Fire

    Power and destruction

    In 1566, 3 years after his celebrated paintings of the seasons, Giuseppe Arcimboldo creates another famous cycle based the 4 elements of earth, fire, water and air.

    The series is one of Arcimboldo’s most unusual creations and is probably commissioned by Emperor Maximilian II. Each of the 4 paintings is a personification of its respective element, in the form of a so-called composite head. Each head is a collection of objects associated with that element. In the case of fire, a burning candle forms the neck, an oil lamp the chin, an extinguished candle stump the eye, a wound fuse the forehead and burning logs the hair. 2 elements are particularly interesting: a large flint for the cheek and fire irons for the nose and ear.

    The famous Chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece is composed in the same way, with pairs of connected fire irons alternating with flints as chain links. The Order of the Golden Fleece is one of the most significant orders of chivalry of the day and an important symbol of Hapsburg power. The chest and shoulders of the figure are composed of canon barrels and pistols. It implies that the emperor not only controls the element, but also fire in weapon form - the most powerful Hapsburg as supreme warlord. Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Fire has been on display at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna since 1830.