December 13, 2008

The Art of Giuseppe Arcrimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527 – 1593) was a famous court painter to the Hapsburg emperors. His work enjoyed a resurgence of popularity when Arcimboldo's eccentric “vegetable” portraits were rediscovered by the Surrealist in the 20th century.


(Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. Summer. c. 1563.
Oil on limewood. Kunsthistorisches Museum,
Gemäldegalerie, Vienna.)

His early artistic career was conventional. He was born as the son of a painter in Milan. He learned his trade working with his father at Milan Cathedral. He provided designs for stained-glass windows and later worked in the cathedrals at Monza and Como.


(Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. The Gardener. c. 1590.
Oil on panel. Museo Civico Ala Ponzone, Cremona.)

Arcrimboldo was lucky, his work came to the attention of the Holy Roman Emperor, who was Ferdinand I at that time. Ferdinand I invited him to his court in Vienna and it was there that he painted the first of his bizarre portraits, called Spring. Spring is a clever arrangement of fruit, flowers and vegetables which forms the likeness of a human head and looks like a portrait from far way.


(Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. Spring. c. 1573.
Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris.)

The fantastic wit of his portraits, which may have been satirical or allegorical, were immensely popular with the Holy Roman Emperor and his successors. Arcimboldo also continued to receive Rudolf II’s patronage, even when he returned to Milan for the final years of his life.


(Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. Winter. c. 1563.
Oil on limewood. Kunsthistorisches Museum,
Gemäldegalerie, Vienna.)

Arcimboldo’s portraits created with fruits, flowers, vegetables and other objects were dictated by the subject, but probably also had some symbolic or satirical significance for contemporary viewers during the time that the portrait was painted.


(Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. Water. c. 1566.
Oil on limewood. Kunsthistorisches Museum,
Gemäldegalerie, Vienna.)

Although Acrimboldo's paintings were mostly produced for courtly settings, he took the playfulness of the Mannerism movement to the extremes with his witty portraits and caricatures. His works were so popular that he painted a number of versions of the same one to supply the huge demand for them at that time. His creativeness, his attention to detail and his humor are all very much appreciated here!

Enjoy :)

Reference: King, R. Art. New York: Dk Publishing, 2008.

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