It’s summer; fruits and veggies galore! So, let’s speak about Giuseppe Arcimboldo, an Italian painter who spent his whole career at the Habsburg court, in Vienna for Emperor Maximilian II and later in Prague for Rudolph II. Arcimboldo was highly successful during his lifetime, but soon forgotten after his death. Only in the 1930s Arcimboldo got rediscovered. About 20 of his paintings remain and those 20 are quite something! A genius with an absolutely unique imagination, Arcimboldo combined fruits, plants and vegetables into allegorical portraits. Here is “Summer”, from one of his “Four Seasons” series, displaying a summer abundance of fruits and vegetables. Arcimboldo’s signature and the date of the painting are woven into the straw coat.
The Habsburg Court encouraged the study of art, nature and science. They not only collected works of art, but also established botanical and zoological gardens. Arcimboldo created a portrait of Emperor Rudolph II as “Vertumnus” the God of the Four Seasons, Gardens and Fruits. And of course Rudolph, who had a sense of humor indeed, loved to show off with this portrait as a symbol of the agricultural richness of his empire. Now the painting is on view in Skokloster Castle in Sweden. In 1648 the Swedish army took it with them after joining the Thirty Year’s War and having looted the castle in Prague.
Arcimboldo had another trick. Some of his painting can be turned upside-down. Look at this basket of fruits, a painting from 1590. Reverse it and it’s the smiling face of the gardener himself. What a wonderful and witty way to paint the wealth of summer. Current whereabouts of the painting unknown, latest at French & Company art gallery, New York.