Wednesday, April 1, 2015



     Ah, the unrivaled genius of Europe's sixteenth-century painters: Leonardo.  Michelangelo.  Raphael.  Arcimboldo.  WHO???
     What?  You never heard of Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526-1593)?  That's weird.  He was a genius too.  Here's a self-portrait:

                                                                A Serious Man

     Born in Milan, he began his painting career in the way that was the norm at that time: focusing on religious subjects, for which he received his first paid commissions.

stained glass, 1549

tapestry, 1558

     In 1562, he assumed the prestigious post of court portraitist for the Hapsburg emperor Ferdinand I in Vienna.  In 1565 he relocated to Prague to become the official portraitist to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II and his family,

Maximilian II, his wife and three children

                                                Archduchess Anna, Maximilian's daughter

and then, after he came to the throne in 1576, Maximilian's son Rudolf II.

      Arcimboldo remained a court portraitist until his retirement in 1587 at age 61.  And he did the things one would expect for his royal patrons, who had way more money than they knew what to do with.  In addition to painting portraits, he designed fanciful sleighs

and costumes for pageants (because he was also the royal Party Planner).

     But somewhere along the way, his work started getting a little... unusual.  No, a lot unusual.  Take, for example, his portraits of some people who weren't members of the royal family:

                                                               The Librarian

                                                                      The Cook

                                                              The Admiral

And then there were other paintings that seemed to be portraits...

                                                 until you turned them upside down...
  Like so:
    Startling composites featuring aspects of nature were Arcimboldo's speciality.  For example, he spent a lot of time meticulously sketching animals.
      And this eventually led to his composite portraits of the Elements: Water, Earth, Fire and Air.  Here's Earth (the animals that walk on land):
      But you haven't even seen his best-known works yet: a series known as The Four Seasons.

      So what did everyone make of this weird royal portrait-painter?  Did they think he was just nuts?  Well, in 1592, the year before Arcimboldo's death, Emperor Rudolf made him a Count, so that probably tells you something.  They LOVED him at the palace.  The European one-percenters of the sixteenth century, in their constant pursuit of novelty (sound like any one-percenters you know?), became fascinated with the idea of the bizarre, the grotesque, or simply the unusual (no court was complete without its complement of dwarves), and Arcimboldo's more inventive work fit the bill, and then some. 
     And what is Arcimboldo's legacy in the 21st century?  Well, many experts consider him to be the forerunner of 20th-century Surrealism - the spiritual father of Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte.
     All in all, not bad for a man who didn't just march to his own drummer - he created his own one-man orchestra. 


  1. Oh, it's THAT guy! :D Good to connect the name with the pictures. Great post, thank you! :) Happy A to Z!

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Epics from A to Z
    MopDog - 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

    1. Thanks so much! And the happiest of A to Z to you too, but doubled for your two sites!!

  2. Love this post! Learned so much. Glad you included upside-down visuals!


  3. Thanks, Yvonne! He's one of my husband's favorite painters and we have a huge "doorstop" book about him at home.

  4. AWESOME ART and AN AMAZING Letter A post. As a former Art Teacher with a Masters in Art Ed., I of course recognized Arcimboldo and his work. But I have to say your post is much more interesting, well written and illustrated than anything I have seen in the Art History books. Excellent post! Thank-you for all the research facts and pictures. I wish I had one of those 'doorstop' books about him!
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal
    AtoZ 2015 Challenge
    Minion for AJ's wHooligans

    1. Thank you so much, Sue! It's great to find a fellow Arcimboldian! Have a fabulous A to Z!!

  5. How fun! I love The Librarian! They are all quite clever with the items used to create the visual of the portrait. Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. Thanks, Jess! I actually wasn't kidding when I called Arcimboldo a genius. Talk about thinking outside the box!! I'm so glad you stopped by.

  6. That was fascinating and super fun! Thanks for an amazing, informative read and a magnificent letter A post.

    1. Thanks, Nila! Right back at you! You've already hit on my favorite poet in your blog, but I still can't wait to read your B-Z!

  7. How very interesting and informative. Great that you included the upside down pictures... I was thinking of turning the laptop upside down! Have a great A-Z! :) Life Diet Health A-Z 684

  8. Thank you so much for your visit here, and best A-to-Z wishes to you too!!

  9. I love the tapestry. And he was a really great painter, especially the more surreal ones, even if I hadn't heard of him before today. Plus the cool looking sleighs.

    1. JE: Leonardo thought he was pretty cool too, so you're in good company! Thanks for visiting, my etymological friend, and have a happy A to Z month!

  10. I've seen his work before. What an advanced vision he had of the world and of art. Great to stop by and see this.

    1. Thank you so much! And thank you for all your hard work on the A to Z Challenge! You rock!