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Giuseppe Arcimboldi
1527-1593

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Giuseppe Arcimboldi was an Italian painter, described by some as Renaissance-painter (Mannerist), and by others as Baroque painter. It is, however, a fact, that his witty allegorical compositions foreshadowed the 20th-century surrealist art. He began his artistic career as a designer of stained glass and tapestry in his native Milan; in 1562 he moved to Prague and then to Vienna, where he became painter to the Habsburg court. 

There are several versions of his name, Josephus, Joseph or Josepho Arcimboldi or Arcimboldus, but it is uncertain which version is the correct one.  The painter himself used all these forms to sign his works, so art historians, particularly in the German-speaking countries, have agreed to refer to him as Giuseppe Arcimboldo. In his native Italy he is always referred to as Arcimboldi. 

He major artistic achievement that brought him international fame in his time was a portrait type consisting of painted animals, flowers, fruit, and objects composed to form a human likeness. For this reason Americans often refer to him jokingly as "Mr. Fruit-Face".  Some are allegorical personifications as shown on these stamps from Italy and Guyana, others are satiric portraits of court personages, and yet others are self-portraits. 

  • Italy 1977.  Arcimboldi: "Winter" painted 1563.  The original portrait belongs to Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Austria). 

  • Guyana 1993.  Arcimboldi:  "Spring" painted 1573. The original painting belongs to The Louvre Museum, Paris.  

Scans by courtesy of Hans-Martin Leth (Denmark).

Italy 1977. Renaissance. Giuseppe Arcimboldi. "Winter".

Guyana 1993. Renaissance. Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Spring.  

Giuseppe Arcimboldi was born in Milan in 1527.  The Arcimboldi family belonged to the patrician class and one of its members was archbishop of Milan. 

Czech Republic 1997. Renaissance. Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Satirical self-portrait.

Giuseppe Arcomboldi. Renaissance. Self-portrait.

Giuseppe's name appears for the first time in the registers of the "Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano" [a guild] in 1549 where he worked along with his father on the creation of some stained-glass windows.His activity in the yard of the Duomo ends in 1558, the year he created a cartoon for a tapestry destined for the Duomo in Como, finalized by the Flemish artist Giovanni Karcher. 

  • Czech Republic 1997.  Arcimboldi. Satirical self-portrait on a sheet, commemorating Emperor Rudolph II.  See the full sheet below on this page. 

  • Arcimboldi:  Self-portrait c. 1575.  Blue pen-and-wash drawing.  Belongs to the National Galery in Prague. 

In 1562, Arcimboldi moved to Venice and was employed at the Imperial Court as copyist and portati-painter, and replaced Jacob Seisenegger, who was already in his declining years. 

The following year, 1563, he painted the series "The Four Seasons", and in 1565 "The Librarian.  During that same year his name appeared for the first time in the Court Registers. 

In 1566, Arcimboldi returned to Italy and it is probable that at this time he submitted various designs for illustrations to the Venetian painter, Francesco Carnocio.  Two years later he started a period of collaboration with the writer Giovanni Battista Fonteneo. 

  • Arcimboldi.  "The Librarian", c. 1565.  Belongs to Skokloster Castle, Stockholm. In my view a wonderful satirical portrait of a "nerded librarian". :-)  Click on the image to see a large version. The link will open in a new window. 

Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Renaissance. The Librarian.

In 1569 he gave the two series of paintings "The Four Seasons" and "The Four Elements" to the Emperor Maximilian, together with an encomiastic poem written in collaboration with Fonteneo.  Two of the paintings from "The Four Seasons" ("Spring" and "Winter") are shown above as postage stamps from Guyana and Italy, respectively. The scans below are from postcards produced by Benedikt Taschen Verlag, Germany. 

Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Renaissance. Paintings "The Four Seasons".  Spring. Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Renaissance. Paintings "The Four Seasons".  Summer. Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Renaissance. Paintings "The Four Seasons".  Autumn. Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Renaissance. Paintings "The Four Seasons".  Winter.
Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Renaissance. Paintings "The Four Elements".  Air. Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Renaissance. Paintings "The Four Elements".  Fire. Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Renaissance. Paintings "The Four Elements".  Earth. Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Renaissance. Paintings "The Four Elements".  Water.

In 1570, in Prague, Arcimboldi prepared the scenery for a tournament organized for the wedding of Elizabeth, daughter of Maximilian II, and Charles IX of France. The following year, in Vienna, he created the decorations for the wedding of Charles, Archduke of Austria, and Maria of Bavaria. In 1572, Arcimboldi created other copies of "The Four Seasons", and in 1573 Maximilian II commissioned him for other versions, one of which was probably destined for the Prince Elector of Saxony. 

Benedetto, the artist's natural son, was born on July 14, 1575 in Prague, and five years later, on May 23red, 1580, the Emperor Rudolph II confirmed the nobility of the Arcimboldi family.  In 1582, Rudolph II requested the artist search for antique and rare objects for his "Wunderkammer", in which pursuit the artist travelled to Aquisgrana and Kempten. 

Czech Republic 1997. Renaissance. Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Souvenir Sheet.

In 1585, Arcimboldi gave a group of 148 designs of costumes, hair-styles, armour, and triumphal sled and carts to Rudolph II, and in 1586 he undertook the project of decorating the new residence of Baron Grünbuchel, the director of the Inner Cabinet of Rudolph II. 

In 1587, Arcimboldi returned permanently to Milan and up to his departure Rudolph II presented him with 1500 gulden, for fortune for the time.  In 1589, he painted "The Flower" which he sent to Prague together with a poem by him friend, the Rev. Gregorio Comanini.  In 1591, Arcimboldi painted and sent to Prague a portrait of Rudolph II (in fruit and vegetables) called "Vertunno", and on May 1st Rudolph II named the artist Count Palatine. 

Giuseppe Arcimboldi died in Milan on July 11, 1593, and was buried in the church of San Pietro della Vigna. Although the artist was extremely famous during his lifetime, he was soon forgotten after his death. However, his name has come to new life with the naming of the totally rebuilt and refurbished Scala Opera in Milan, now called Teatro degli Arcimboldi. 

Sources and links: 

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