Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527 – July 11, 1593)

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527 – July 11, 1593)

Style: Surrealism

Background: Giuseppe Arcimboldo born in Italy on 1527.  Arcimboldo was best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of such objects as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books – that is, he painted representations of these objects on the canvas arranged in such a way that the whole collection of objects formed a recognizable likeness of the portrait subject.

Education: Giuseppe Arcimboldo started his career as a designer for stained glasses and frescoes at local cathedrals when he was 21 years old. In 1562 he became court portraitist to Ferdinand I at the Habsburg court in Vienna , and later, to Maximilian II and his son Rudolf II at the court of Prague. He was also the court decorator and costume designer.King Augustus of Saxony, who visited Vienna in 1570 and 1573, saw Arcimboldo’s work and commissioned a copy of his “The Four Seasons” which incorporates his own monarchic aymbols.

Achievements: At a distance, his portraits looked like normal human portraits. However, individual objects in each portrait were actually overlapped together to make various anatomical shapes of a human. They were carefully constructed by his imagination. Besides, when he assembled objects in one portrait, he never used random objects. Each object was related by characterization.In The Librarian, Arcimboldo used objects that signified the book culture at that time, such as the curtain that created individual study rooms in a library. The animal tails, which became the beard of the portrait, were used as dusters. By using the everyday objects, the portraits were decoration and still life paintings at the same time.His works showed not only nature and human beings, but also how close they were related.

After the portrait was released to the public, some scholars, who had a close relationship with the book culture at that time, argued that the portrait ridiculed their scholarship. In fact, Arcimboldo criticized the phenomenon of the rich people’s misbehavior and showed others what happened at that time through his art. In The Librarian, although the painting looked ridiculous, it criticized some wealthy people who collected the books in order to satisfy their ownership, instead of to read the books.

Art critics debate whether his paintings were whimsical or the product of a deranged mind.A majority of scholars hold to the view, however, that given the Renaissance fascination with riddles, puzzles, and the bizarre (see, for example, the grotesque heads of Leonardo da Vinci), Arcimboldo, far from being mentally imbalanced, catered to the taste of his times.

Arcimboldo died in Milan, to which he retired after leaving the Prague service. It was during this last phase of his career that he produced the composite portrait of Rudolph II (see above), as well as his self-portrait as the Four Seasons. His Italian contemporaries honored him with poetry and manuscripts celebrating his illustrious career.

Famous Works:

Giuseppe Arcimboldi - Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II. of Austria and his wife Infanta Maria of Spain with their children

Giuseppe Arcimboldi – Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II. of Austria and his wife Infanta Maria of Spain with their children

Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Autumn

Giuseppe Arcimboldo – Autumn

Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Spring

Giuseppe Arcimboldo – Spring

Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Vertumnus, a portrait of today

Giuseppe Arcimboldo – Vertumnus, a portrait of today

Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Winter

Giuseppe Arcimboldo – Winter