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Friday, October 10, 2014

Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Autumn and Winter, 1573, Giuseppe Arcimboldo--weird
Giuseppe Arcimboldo Self-portrait
Yesterday (item below) in discussing the art of Charles Dana Gibson, I alluded several times the interrelationship between art and humor. Until illustrators and cartoonists began to toy around with their talents during the 19th and 20th-centuries, quite frankly, there wasn't much of one. Even had there been, humor (relying on the vital element of time and place) tends not to have an exceptionally long "shelf-life." We probably wouldn't understand centuries-old humor in any case. In the past, art, was the primary means by which culture, events, personalities, and and daily life could be explored visually and preserved. It was simply too important to be dallied with in the realm of humor. As a result, we often come away thinking our forebears had little or no sense of humor and thus lived a rather drab, humorless existence. Although I didn't live back then, in digging a little into the various fine arts, I find clues to the fact that this was not the case. An example of this is the work of the Italian portrait/still-life artist, Giuseppe Arcimboldo. People back them must have had a rather broad, forgiving sense of humor, or this weirdo would have spent most of his life locked up, or in an early grave.
The Cook, 1590, Giuseppe Arcimboldo. It's a wonder his cook didn't poison him.
The Librarian, ca. 1590,
Giuseppe Arcimboldo
Although the history of art is likely populated with any number of artists whom most people would consider "weird," I reserve that term for only the weirdest of the lot. Moreover, it's not just his art that was weird, Arcimboldo wore the "weirdo" badge with great honor, not to be seen again until the coming of Salvador Dali some four-hundred years later. However, unlike Dali's pop-eyed expressions and his silly little moustache, in looking at the Giuseppe Arcimboldo self-portrait (above, right), there's nothing particularly weird about his appearance. Nonetheless, there were those living in his time who felt the man should be committed to some kind of post-Renaissance mental institution--those without a sense of humor, apparently. Among them were likely cooks (above), gardeners (below), lawyers, and librarians (right). Arcimboldo's still-life paintings were exquisitely rendered, and the fact that he arranged some of them to look like people when inverted was really quite clever for its time. It was his titles, however, which offended--librarians especially (right).

The Vegetable Gardener, 1590, Giuseppe Arcimboldo--something for the vegetarians.
The Four Seasons (four individual paintings),
1573, Giuseppe Arcimboldo
I've been award of Arcimboldo's art ever since doing an item on Food Still-lifes several months ago, but had never delved into the artist himself until today. Giuseppe Arcimboldo was born around 1526. His father was a designer of stained glass windows and frescoes for the local churches in Milan. As was common at the time, young Giuseppe started out in the plodding footsteps of his father, who apparently provided his son with the boy's only art instruction. However, about the time he turned twenty-one, Giuseppe decided he wanted to be a portrait painter. He married, then headed off to the Hapsburg court of Ferdinand I in Vienna where he became the court painter. There, around 1573, Arcimboldo began to dabble with anthropomorphic produce. His four allegory paintings, Earth, Water, Flora, and Air (bottom) from this period. From Vienna he moved on to Prague to satisfy the portrait vanities of Maxmiliann II and his son, Rudolf II.

Emperor Rudolf II, 1590,
Giuseppe Arcimboldo
It was in the person of Rudolf II, an ineffectual monarch, but an avid devotee of the arts, that Arcimboldo found a patron with a sense of humor broad enough to countenance his first fruit and veggie portrait (right), Ge depicted the emperor as Vertumnus, the Roman god of the seasons around 1590-91. The scandalous depictions of the various professions came about the same time or shortly thereafter. His critics couldn't decide if his paintings were simply funny, satirical, derogatory, or the product of artist insanity. In any case, he became collectible to the point Arcimboldo found it possible, and indeed, necessary to return to Milan in retirement where he continued painting for his own enjoyment until his death in 1593. Art historians have judged Arcimboldo to not only have been quite sane, but far ahead of his time (by several centuries, in fact) which, alone, is enough to cause myself and others to consider him weird.

Allegory of Earth, 1573, Giuseppe Arcimboldo
Allegory of Water, 1573, Giuseppe Arcimboldo--easily his ugliest painting.
Allegory of Flora, 1573, Giuseppe Arcimboldo
Allegory of Air, 1573, Giuseppe Arcimboldo.


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