Cher’s Famous Art
12 September 2020
20 March 2021: 1st day of Spring
Guiseppe Arcimboldo, 1563-73, Mannerist, Italy
In Minnesota, when we are keenly aware of the changing of the four seasons. We enjoy each on to the maximum–although often winter can seem too long, especially if it has been especially cold.
I have always been drawn to Arcimboldo’s group of paintings he has titled “Four Seasons” because of how unique each one is both in how they are portrayed, the objects the artist uses to symbolize each season.
Best known for his series of 4 paintings “Four Seasons,” each portrait represents one of the seasons and is made up of objects that characterize that particular time of year. The viewer can look and study each one and still discover new things again and again.
Travel Tip: the “Kuntz” Museum
Arcimboldo, the painter
Arcimboldo was an Italian painter best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish and books, He fused two popular painting genres: portraiture and still life.
To see the “Four Seasons” in person, the paintings are split between the Kunsthistorisches Museum (the “Kunst”), Vienna and Louvre, Paris.
This smiling young woman’s portrait is packed with colorful flowers and fresh spring green leaves. Pink and white blossoms make up her face, her lips are rose buds and petals, and her eyes are belladonna berries. With a lily-bud nose, tulip ear, her features are topped with a colorful and lush bouquet of hair.
Her body is covered with an abundant jungle of green plants and leaves in a variety of shapes. Adorning her neck is a daisy necklace forming a white floral ruff.
After a dark, drab winter, she invites us to welcome the freshness and color of spring!
The smiling, sunny portrait of Summer is made of seasonal fruit and vegetables in bright colors against a dark background. The border of her hair–and upper lip–are adorned with bright red cherries.
Her nose is made of a green cucumber, and her ear of a purple eggplant. A lush pastel peach makes up her cheek, and an ear of wheat shapes her eyebrow. An artichoke decorates her chest on a dress made of straw.
Interestingly, GUISEPPE ARCIMBOLDO F is inscribed on the collar of her dress and the year 1575 on the shoulder of the copy at the Louvre–something to look for when you get to see it in person!
The portrait of Autumn is a rough, surly man whose body is a broken barrel, its wooden slats bound together with willow branches. His neck of two pears and some vegetables, emerges from this partially destroyed vat.
His face, ripe to bursting, is made of an apple cheek, pear nose, pomegranate chin, and mushroom ear with a fig-shaped earring. Chestnuts make up his mouth and lips. Topping it all is a pumpkin bonnet over the bunches of grapes that are his hair.
Winter is a portrait of an old man wrapped in a straw mat. Made up of an aged tree stump, his skin is a gnarled trunk, the wood displaying abrasions and swellings to represent the skin wrinkles of old age. Pieces of broken-off branch, scratched bark for his features, and a mouth of two swollen mushrooms, all emphasize the barrenness of winter.
His beard, composed of small roots and branches, is thin and poorly groomed. A tangle of branches make up his hair behind a series of small, dry leaves. The ear is part of a broken branch; the eye is a dark, black cleft in the log.
Winter’s bare figure is devoid of color except a bit of dull orange and lemon hanging from a dry branch on his chest. Why citrus? In Italy, the artist’s home country, citrus is the only winter fruit.
Being a lover of color and warmth represented by Spring and Summer, Winter is my least favorite of the both the seasons and of the four paintings. However, in the Roman Calendar, winter is the first season of the year making it the most important of the four during the time it was painted..
Arcimboldo created a later series of another four portraits titled Four Elements (1566) – Air, Fire, Earth and Water – correspond with spring, summer, autumn and winter respectively.
Both sets of paintings were commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II. Art historians believe that the overall effect of the two series is to suggest that the Holy Roman Emperor influences everything on the earth down to its most primal forces. It is believed that by combining objects and creatures into faces, Arcimboldo transforms chaos into harmony, which could also be seen as a reflection on the Holy powers of the Emperor.
As art historian Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann confirms: the paintings were intended to be humorous, but “the humor resolves itself in a serious way,” probably as a comment on the majesty of the ruler.
TRAVEL TIP: To see the “Four Seasons” in person, the paintings are split between the Kunsthistorisches Museum (the “Kunst”), Vienna and Louvre, Paris, so probably not on one trip. Plus, there are other works by Arcimboldo to be seen in other museums–so check it out ahead of time! They are much more intriguing in person when you can see them up close. A good place to start is the following website: https://www.theartstory.org/artist/arcimboldo-giuseppe/artworks/
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