Arcimboldo: Visual Jokes, Natural History, and Still-Life by Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann

By Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann

In Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s most renowned work, grapes, fish, or even the beaks of birds shape human hair. A pear stands in for a man’s chin. Citrus culmination sprout from a tree trunk that doubles as a neck. all kinds of ordinary phenomena come jointly on canvas and panel to collect the unusual heads and faces that represent one among Renaissance art’s so much amazing oeuvres. the 1st significant learn in a iteration of the artist at the back of those amazing work, Arcimboldo tells the singular tale in their creation.   Drawing on his thirty-five-year engagement with the artist, Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann starts off with an outline of Arcimboldo’s lifestyles and paintings, exploring the artist’s early years in sixteenth-century Lombardy, his grounding in Leonardesque traditions, and his tenure as a Habsburg court docket portraitist in Vienna and Prague. Arcimboldo then trains its specialise in the distinguished composite heads, imminent them as visible jokes with critical underpinnings—images that poetically reveal pictorial wit whereas conveying an allegorical message. as well as probing the humanistic, literary, and philosophical dimensions of those items, Kaufmann explains that they embrace their creator’s non-stop engagement with nature portray and normal historical past. He unearths, in reality, that Arcimboldo painted many extra nature reports than students have realized—a discovering that considerably deepens present interpretations of the composite heads. Demonstrating the formerly ignored significance of those works to normal heritage and still-life portray, Arcimboldo eventually restores the artist’s significant visible jokes to their rightful position within the historical past of either technological know-how and artwork.

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Leonardo’s legacy was being kept alive in Milan; his disciple and assistant Francesco Melzi had inherited the contents of his studio, including most of his manuscripts. 38 Bernardino Luini, another disciple and associate of Leonardo, probably also inherited some of Leonardo’s materials. 39 Lomazzo and later sources also say that another book with Leonardo’s drawings was owned by Giovanni Ambrogio Figino. 8╇Arcimboldo, Winter, 1563. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Photo: Eric Lessing / Art Resource, NY.

These observations also serve to remind us that Arcimboldo’s origins as an artist must be sought in the realm of figure painting. The line in Lombardy that seems to lead to Arcimboldo is, however, not the same line that leads from Gaudenzio or even from those more general tendencies toward naturalism that are found in Lombard painting. Both the naturalistic component and any other features of Arcimboldo’s art are, rather, to be related to another more definable source. It is the legacy of Leonardo that looms longest and largest among his Lombard antecedents.

He may, for example, have been stimulated by Leonardo or his followers to undertake his first essays in nature drawing, which also engage the fantastic. 77 This and a drawing of a lizard and salamander may have been done in Milan before he went north. 78 However, while Lombard artists of the period of Arcimboldo’s youth may often have painted rocks, flowers, and plants that could have been taken from the pages of Leonardo, this is never the case with Arcimboldo himself. Arcimboldo’s depictions of natural forms, while comparable to studies and paintings in the tradition stemming from Leonardo, are not derived directly from Leonardo himself.

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