Obelisk Art History
The Artists

Giuseppe Arcimboldo
Why take art so seriously?

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, The Artists
Portrait of Giuseppe Arcimboldo

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 Arcimboldo’s surreal portraits—a hotbed of ambition, drawing intellectuals and inventors from all over Europe. Arcimboldo himself moved from Milan, and turned full polymath in Vienna, inventing a type of harpsichord, designing costumes, and writing poetry for the royals. While he painted a number of classical portraits, it was his constructions that captured the imagination of the court. Arcimboldo 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” aimed to capture the harmony and plenty of the Hapsburg empire.

Was Giuseppe Arcimboldo ahead of his time? Oddly, no. His work was provocative and well-received in his own time, and his influence persists to this day, from the Surrealists’ personification of inanimate objects to the composite photographs overused by modern advertising, Arcimboldo taught us to love the double-take.

Reed Enger, "Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Why take art so seriously?," in Obelisk Art History, Published October 04, 2015; last modified September 19, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/giuseppe-arcimboldo/.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo was an Italian artist born on April 5, 1526. Arcimboldo contributed to the Mannerist movement and died on July 11, 1593.

Spring, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Spring 1563

Summer, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Summer 1563

The Winter, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

The Winter 1563

Earth, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Earth 1566

The Air, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

The Air 1566

The Fire, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

The Fire 1566

Water, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Water 1566

Autumn, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Autumn 1573

Flora, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Flora 1589

Four Seasons in One Head, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Four Seasons in One Head 1590

Rudolf II of Habsburg as Vertumnus, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Rudolf II of Habsburg as Vertumnus 1590

Affiliate Links
Arcimboldo: 1526-1593, Recommended Reading

This seems to be the only substantive book on the life and work of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, and while the translation from Italian is pretty rocky, it goes wide—including a variety of essays on Arcimboldo and his historical context.

amazon ↗

By continuing to browse Obelisk you agree to our Cookie Policy