Fascinating Faces: Giuseppe Arcimboldo

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Giuseppe Arcimboldo's "The Librarian" is a favorite of readers Tanner and Sue, who wanted to know a little more about the man who created such an unusual portrait. While most of you are familiar with his work, you probably don't know much about the man himself. So, in honor of the 415th anniversary of his death tomorrow, an Arcimboldo education:

1. While some of Giuseppe Arcimboldo's capricci, or "fancy pieces," are colorful and humorous, others can be downright frightening, leading some critics to wonder if Arcimboldo may have been a bit deranged. The paintings, in which everyday objects are arranged to create a portrait, were all the rage in the 16th century, though, so it's more likely Arcimboldo was just catering to the Renaissance fascination with puzzles and all things bizarre.

2. The royalty was quite fond of Arcimboldo's work. In 1562, Arcimboldo became court portraitist to Maximilian II in Vienna. Later, he served as court portraitist in Prague to Rudolf II, Maximilian's son. And King Augustus of Saxony was so taken by Arcimboldo's "The Four Seasons" that he commissioned a personalized copy, with his own monarchic symbols worked into the design.

3. At the courts, Arcimboldo didn't just work as a portraitist. He also designed costumes, decorated the court, and served as a Renaissance party planner, making all the arrangements for big events, including weddings. Fountains, rivers of champagne, parades, sculptures, and birds were all standard. He was even known to rig up elaborate inventions, like a "Harpsichord of Color," to make the parties really rock.

4. As with so many artists, Arcimboldo had some impressive connections aside from his employers. His father was a relatively well-known artist named Biagio, and his grandfather was Giovanni Arcimboldo, Archbishop of Milan. When it came time for training, Arcimboldo supposedly studied under the great Leonardo da Vinci.

5. Despite receiving fame for his capricci, Arcimboldo also created some more traditional artwork, like this self-portrait, and inversion paintings, most notably "Vegetables in the Bowl / Gardener."

Larger versions of "The Librarian" are available from Wikipedia, aiwaz.net, and WGA.

Fans should check out the Giuseppe Arcimboldo galleries on aiwaz.net, ARC, and WGA; the International Herald Tribune's slideshow from an Arcimboldo show; and our post on Walter Goodman's "The Printseller" that inspired the requests for Arcimboldo.

Current Exhibitions featuring "Feel Art Again" artists:
Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius (Houston: through September 14, 2008)
Dali: Painting and Film (NYC: through September 15, 2008)
Homer, Eakins, and Bellows (Washington, DC: through January 2009)

"Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. E-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with artist suggestions or details about current exhibitions.

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July 10, 2008 - 6:12am
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