Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593): Allegory of Spring, c

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593): Allegory of Spring, c

2/25/2021, 12:17:26 PM
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593): Allegory of Spring, c. 1563, Oil on wood panel, 66 x 50 cm, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Francisco, Madrid . . The Seasons of the year, paired with the Elements (Air, Fire, Earth and Water), are an allegory of imperial power presented to Maximilian II in 1569 by Arcimboldo and the court poet Fonteo. Maximilian rules over time (the Seasons) and space (the Elements), which take human form because all their traits are contained in the four Ages and four Temperaments of man, subject to the emperor. Anyone looking at Arcimboldo’s composite heads for the first time feels surprised, startled, and bewildered; our gaze moves back and forth between the overall human form and the richness of individual details until we get the joke and find ourselves amused, delighted, or perhaps even repelled. Any transformation or manipulation of the human face attracts attention, but the effect is accentuated when we are confronted with monsters where, instead of eyes, mouths, noses, and cheeks, we find flowers or cherries, peas, cucumbers, peaches, broken branches, or as in this painting here, glasses, ewers and much else. Arcimboldo’s paintings stimulate opposing, irreconcilable interpretations of what we are seeing and thus are paradoxical in the truest sense of the word. Of all the season-heads, Spring offers less surprises than the other three season allegories. The form of the head is simply filled out with flowers, the body with leaves. At the same time, however, Spring surpasses all of Arcimboldo's composite heads in its richness of species. 80 different varieties of flowering plants can be counted. Arcimboldo, according to an Italian friend, was always up to something capricciosa, or whimsical, whether it was inventing a harpsichord-like instrument, writing poetry or concocting costumes for royal pageants. He likely spent time browsing the Hapsburgs’ private collections of artworks and natural oddities in the Kunstkammer, considered a predecessor of modern museums.

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