In the late 16th century, Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted witty, surreal portraits of people composed of fruit, vegetables, animals, and everyday objects. Right now, many of those paintings are on display at Washington, DC's National Gallery of Art. From Smithsonian:
Part scientist, part sycophant, part visionary, Arcimboldo was born in 1526 in Milan. His father was an artist, and Giuseppe's early career suggests the standard Renaissance daily grind: he designed cathedral windows and tapestries rife with angels, saints and evangelists. Though apples and lemons appear in some scenes, the produce is, comparatively, unremarkable. Rudolf's father, Maximilian II, the Hapsburg archduke and soon-to-be Holy Roman Emperor, welcomed the painter in his Vienna court in the early 1560s. Arcimboldo remained with the Hapsburgs until 1587 and continued to paint for them after his return to Italy..."Arcimboldo's Feast for the Eyes"
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.
The first known composite heads were presented to Maximilian on New Year's Day 1569. One set of paintings was called The Four Seasons, and the other--which included Earth, Water, Fire and Air--The Four Elements. The allegorical paintings are peppered with visual puns (Summer's ear is an ear of corn) as well as references to the Hapsburgs. The nose and ear of Fire are made of fire strikers, one of the imperial family's symbols. Winter wears a cloak monogrammed with an "M," presumably for Maximilian, that resembles a garment the emperor actually owned. Earth features a lion skin, a reference to the mythological Hercules, to whom the Hapsburgs were at pains to trace their lineage. Many of the figures are crowned with tree branches, coral fragments or stag's antlers.
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.
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