Once a week we take a painting, or piece of sculpture, that interests us, tell you a bit about it and hope it sparks something with you and your families. We would love to hear of any recommendations.
Hallelujah! March is here and with it (meteorological) spring. This week sixteenth century Giuseppe Arcimboldo has galvanized us with his eccentric vision of Spring.
Spring by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
1563, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Spain
Italian Artist (1527-1593) Giuseppe Arcimboldo was born in Milan and court painter to several monarchs in Vienna and Prague. He is most famous for his portraits of human heads made up of vegetables, fruit, flowers, and all sorts of other things (animals, meat and objects such as books). Some historians wonder if he was plain bonkers or whether he just painted them for fun – what is certain is that he was wildly creative.
Spring is one of a cycle of paintings dedicated to the four seasons. Each season is symbolically represented by a collection of fruits and objects that are typical of the time of year. but the paintings also showcase the literal fruits of the prosperous reign of Emperor Maximillian II.
The Emperor loved the paintings so much that he had Arcimboldo reproduce them multiple times so that he could send them to friends and family. Only Winter and Summer survive from the original work (these are now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). The Louvre in Paris has a full set of the copies made by the painter for Maximilian to send to Augustus of Saxony - these have a floral frame not used in the original version. Spring also survives from a set copied for Phillip II of Spain (now in the Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid).
If we take a look at Spring, from a distance we see a young woman with a gentle smile. Look closer, and it becomes clear that her skin, hair and clothes are just an illusion. The woman is in fact composed of the petals and stalks of spring flowers rendered in minute detail. Her skin consists of blossoms ranging from white to pink; her hair is made of a magnificent bouquet of colourful flowers and her dress a jungle of green plants. Her nose is the bud of a lily, her ear a tulip and her eye a couple of black nightshades with their blossom. The ruff – an arrangement of white daisies –separates her head from her body. Arcimboldo painted eighty botanical species to make Spring. Arcimboldo's – often grotesque – compositions contain jokes, puns and allegorical meanings with political significance which were appreciated by his contemporaries but many of which are lost on later audiences. However, his influence can be seen on artists several centuries later – Surrealist artists, such as Salvador Dali, admired these double images.
Anya Waddington 1 March 2021