15 Strange Facts About Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Unusual Portraits

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Sixteenth century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo followed in the footsteps of his father, Biagio, training in stained glass and fresco painting. But it was this imaginative Italian's curious take on portraits—composite heads composed of flowers, fruits, and other inanimate objects—that have defined his legacy. 

1. ARCIMBOLDO EXPLORED HIS STYLE AS A COURT PAINTER. 

Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I first claimed the artist and his talents for Vienna in 1562, where Arcimboldo served as court painter for his son and successor Maximilian II. He continued with the Habsburgs under Maximilian II, and when Rudolf II moved the court from Vienna to Prague, Arcimboldo made the move as well. In honor of Maximilian II, Arcimboldo began experimenting, creating The Four Seasons, a series of portraits in profile that constructed faces out of blooming blossoms, swollen gourds, withered roots, and ripe grain. He also dabbled in interior design and costume creations.

2. HIS ROYAL PORTRAITS BUCKED CONVENTION. 

Arcimboldo didn't just personify the seasons with produce. His most famous piece is a portrait of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, who was so fond of having his likeness captured that he contracted several acclaimed artists to do so. Germany's Hans von Aachen presented the emperor with a frilly collar and a generous chin. Dutch sculptor Adrian de Vries made a regal bust of the monarch. Arcimboldo reimagined him as Vertumnus, the Roman God of plant life, building his cheeks with peaches, his neck with chives, and his hair with grapes and grain. 

3. NOT ALL OF HIS PORTRAITS WERE ORGANIC. 

The Librarian built a scholar out of books. The Waiter constructed a server out of barrels and bottles. The Jurist utilized books, a chicken carcass, and a bit of fish. 

4. ARCIMBOLDO WAS A MASTER OF CAPRICCIOSA AND SCHERZI. 

These words translate loosely to whimsical and games. The artist's mosaic masterpieces were intended to be playful, entertaining, and humorous, sometimes at others' expense. 

5. ONE PIECE MAY BE THROWING SHADE. 

Art historians suspect The Jurist is a depiction of Maximilian's duplicitous vice-chancellor, Ulrich Zasius. Rather than a face radiant with natural beauty and color, the two-faced Zasius is constructed out of mud-colored plucked poultry and fecund fish, clearly illustrating Arcimboldo's disdain. 

6. ARCIMBOLDO TOOK NATURE SERIOUSLY. 

Arcimboldo’s works may be playful, but he and his contemporaries were fascinated by the beauty and grotesqueness that could be found in the natural world. His dedicated depiction of flora and fauna down to the finest details [PDFis a major part of why the composite heads are still marveled over centuries later. 

7. ONE OF HIS SERIES PAID TRIBUTE TO THE ELEMENTS. 

Four Elements offered surreal portraits made up of elegant animals and man made luxury. Air soars with a flock of birds, including an owl, a rooster, a parrot, and a peacock. Water contains a string of pearls and a coral crown laced around a swimming collection of fish, sharks, squids, sea turtles, and crustaceans. Earth is made of mammals, like elephants, deer, predatory cats, a wild boar, rabbit, and lamb. Lastly, Fire shimmers with sparks, flames, candles, lamps, and glistening gold and guns.  

8. THE HABSBURGS LOVED HIS WHIMSICAL STYLE. 

Though royal portraits of the time were intended to idealize their subjects, the Habsburgs adored Arcimboldo's inventive renderings. Their court was known for welcoming intellectuals and encouraging avant-garde art. Arcimboldo happily worked for the family for more than 25 years and would continue to accept commissions even after moving back to his homeland in Milan.

9. THE PAINTINGS ARE RICH WITH ALLUSIONS AND VISUAL PUNS. 

Summer has an ear of corn for an ear. Winter includes a cloak with a monogrammed M, referring to Emperor Maximilian, who owned a similar garment. Similarly, Fire includes fire strikers, a symbol of the Habsburg family, and Earth's lion skin cloak harkens to Hercules, whom the royal clan liked to claim as an ancestor. 

10. HIS WORK INSPIRED A ROYAL COSTUME PARTY. 

In 1571, Maximilian requested Arcimboldo arrange a festival in which the royals and their fancy friends might masquerade as the elements and the seasons. It's likely the painter's costuming ambitions were given a fantastic outlet at the festivities, where life reflected art (which reflected life): Maximilian attended as Arcimboldo's Winter. 

11. HE GOT EVEN WACKIER WITH “REVERSIBLES.” 

Public Domain

These paintings took playfulness to a new level by flipping them literally on their heads. At first glance, these pieces look like a still life, a bowl of vegetables for instance. But linger on their legumes and you'll see a face, upside down, with a bowl as a hat.  

12. THESE FLIPS TOOK SOME TRIAL AND ERROR. 

Art historians believed that Arcimboldo painted these pieces as still life, right side up. Then he would turn them to see their faces and adjust accordingly. X-rays of the canvases reveal that this required some shifting of positions and repainting of fruit to get everything just right. 

13. DESPITE THE ROYAL ACCLAIM, HIS FAME FADED. 

For decades, Arcimboldo was well known and admired among the elite. Yet following his death in 1593, these incredible paintings were largely forgotten for centuries. 

14. SURREALISTS HELPED RESTORE HIS STATURE. 

Artists like Salvador Dali have cited the groundbreaking painter's composite heads as a major source of inspiration. But it was Museum of Modern Art director Alfred H. Barr's inclusion of his works in the 1930s exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism that re-introduced the world to Arcimboldo's originality and influence [PDF]. Retroactively, art historians dubbed the Renaissance Mannerist the grandfather of Surrealism.   

15. TODAY HE IS BELOVED AROUND THE WORLD. 

Arcimboldo’s works once again enjoy widespread acclaim. Vertumnus is on display in Sweden's Skokloster Castle along with The Librarian (although testing in 2011 [PDF] revealed that The Librarian might be a later copy). Spring belongs to Madrid's Museo de la Real Academia de San Fernando, while the Louvre in Paris displays Autumn and Winter. Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna boasts Summer, Fire and Water. Italy's Museo Civico holds The Vegetable Bowl (also known as The Gardener), and Four Seasons in One Head calls the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. home.

Pantone’s 2019 Color of the Year is 'Sociable and Spirited' Living Coral

iStock.com/Thornberry
iStock.com/Thornberry

Goodbye violet, and hello coral. Pantone has named “Living Coral” its Color of the Year for 2019, but you still have the rest of the month to wear out this year’s shade of “Ultra Violet.”

The orange-pink hue (officially PANTONE 16-1546) is a response to an environment in flux and the human need to feel connected to other people, even as technology becomes more and more embedded in our daily lives, according to Pantone. "Sociable and spirited, the engaging nature of PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral welcomes and encourages lighthearted activity,” the company writes on its website. “Symbolizing our innate need for optimism and joyful pursuits, PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral embodies our desire for playful expression.”

As the world’s leading authority on color, Pantone’s picks for Color of the Year have been informing the worlds of interior decorating, fashion, graphic design, and other creative fields since 1999. The company’s Color Institute chose cerulean blue as its very first prediction for the year ahead (2000), according to the history section of Pantone’s website.

The intensive process of predicting the next color to take over the design world begins with noticing the hues that are starting to appear more prominently in new fashion lines, films, cars, art, and the streets of some of the world’s trendiest places, like London, Paris, and Milan.

In 2014, Leatrice Eiseman—executive director of the Pantone Color Institute—told Glamour that Pantone’s color experts are trained to look at “macro influences” around the world. “You can’t look just in the category that’s of specific interest,” Eiseman said. “You might manufacture clothing, but you have to know what’s happening in the bigger world around you so you know what color to choose.”

For those more interested in practical interior design trends than all-encompassing color schemes, paint brand Benjamin Moore has also revealed its color of the year for 2019. A cool gray hue (called Metropolitan AF-690) was chosen for the “calming role” it plays in our lives and our homes.

There’s a Snowman Hiding In These Snowflakes—Can You Spot It?

Gergely Dudás is a master of hidden image illustrations. The Hungarian artist, who is known to his fans as “Dudolf,” has spent the past several years delighting the internet with his inventive designs, going all the way back to the time he hid a single panda bear in a sea of snowmen in 2015.

In the years since, he has played optical tricks with a variety of other figures, including sheep and Santa Claus and hearts and snails. So what would the holiday season be without yet another Dudolf brainteaser? At first glance, his latest image (click on the post above to see a larger version) looks like a brightly colored field of snowflakes. But look closer—much, much closer—and you'll find a snowman hiding in there. Or you won't. But we promise it's there. (Dudolf has thoughtfully included a link to the solution on his Facebook page, so that you can either confirm your brilliance or just skip the brain strain altogether.)

If you like what you see here, Dudolf has an entire holiday-themed book of hidden images, Bear's Merry Book of Hidden Things: Christmas Seek-and-Find, which has been described as "Where’s Waldo? for the next generation." He also regularly posts new images to both his blog and Facebook page.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER