Trivium Art HistoryThe Artists

Giuseppe ArcimboldoWhy take art so seriously?

Giuseppe Arcimboldo was an Italian artist born in 1526. Arcimboldo contributed to the Mannerist movement and died on July 11, 1593.

The Viennese royalty must have had a sense of humor. In 1562, Giuseppe Arcimboldo became the court portraitist, a position of honor and dignity, for Ferdinand the First. Generations of court painters had set the bar for stiff formal portraits of kings and dignitaries, and along comes Giuseppe painting everyone as piles of fruit.

But the Hapsburg court was as different as Giuseppe’s surreal portraits — a hotbed of ambition, drawing intellectuals and inventors. Giuseppe himself left Milan, and proceeded to invent a type of harpsichord, design costumes and write poetry for the royals. While he painted a number of classical portraits, it was certainly his constructions that captured the imagination of the court. Giuseppe took care to portray his subjects in forms that spoke to their interests. “The Librarian” is thought to depict Wolfgang Lazius, a historian — and the “Four Seasons” were meant to show the harmony and plenty of the Hapsburg empire.

Was Giuseppe Arcimboldo ahead of his time? Oddly, no — his work was provocative and well-recieved in his own time, but his influence has persisted to this day. From the surrealists’ personification of objects to the composite photographs overused by modern advertising, Guiseppe taught us to love the double-take. 

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Spring

1563

Summer

1563

The Winter

1563

Earth

1566

Water

1566

The Air

1566

The Fire

1566

Autumn

1573

Flora

1589

Rudolf II of Habsburg as Vertumnus

1590

Four Seasons in One Head

1590

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