Thursday, 16 December 2010

OLD MASTERS - A painted winter

'through the eyes' of  OLD MASTERS

Giuseppe (Joseffi) Arcimboldo  1527 - 1593

"...perfect in his uniqueness, as are only the great". ANDRE  PIEYRE  MANDIARGUES

Self-Portrait,  c. 1575
Narodni Galerie, Prague

Like all Italian names with the ending -baldo or -boldo, 
Arcimboldo is Southern Germanic in origin.  The history of
the Arcimboldo family was recorded by Father F. Paolo Morigia,
who faithfully wrote down everything the artist told him.
And according to Father Morigia it goes back as far
as Charlemagne, in whose sevices there was said to have been
a certain nobleman by the name of Saitfried Arcimboldi.
Of his sixteen children three were said to have excelled so much
that they were also ennobled.
One of these three subsequently emigrated to Italy, where he
established the Italian line of the Arcimboldi family.

This story is undoubtedly a mixture of history and legend,
but the following words of Morigia's seem to be more
securely grounded in facts: 
"Everything I have been saying about the Arcimboldis comes from
Mr. Giuseppe Arcimboldi, a trustworthy gentleman 
with an impeccable lifestyle, who has served 
two German Emperors, and he has copied these details about 
the ancestry and origins of the Arcimboldi family from an
ancient parchment in the German language which was read
to him by the physician of the Emperor Maximilian, and he declares
furthermore that he has visited two places which are called Arcimboldi".......

Arcimboldo was probably born in Milan in 1527,
the same year in which Rome was conquered and plundered
by Charles the Fifth's mercenaries.


In 1562 Giuseppe gave in to the repeated requests of
Emperor Ferdinand I and went to Prague.
During the two years when he served Ferdinand I he painted
several portraits of the Imperial family as well
as the first series of his Four Seasons.

Research has shown that Arcimboldo also painted
during the reign of Maximilian II 
another series of the Four Seasons in 1572,

Winter was conceived rather differently from the other four seasons.
It is not a tete composée in the same strict sense as
Spring, Summer or Autumn

The other three seasons are presented as a variety of equally
important plants, fruits and flowers, whereas Arcimboldo's       

WINTER  (1563)
consists of a central element, a tree stump in the shape
of a head, which dominates the entire compostition.
Both in form and structure there is a strong similarity 
between the tree stump and the wrinkled hand, stubby beard
and thick lips of an old man, 
thus arousing sympathy in us 
and involving us personally. 

Oil on wood, 66,6 x 50,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Signed in the lower right-hand corner:
Giuseppe Arcimboldo F.
Date and title on the reverse: 1563 Hjems

Oil on wood, 84 x 57 cm
Bayerische Staatsgemaeldesammlungen

Winter (1573)
is the final picture in the series of the Four Seasons
which Arcimboldo painted in 1573.

It is easy to make out a pathetic old man whose nose is peeling
and whose swollen, toothless mouth - a mushroom - sits crookedly
on a chin full of warts.  His face is covered with a stubbly beard and 
is full of scars and scabs.  His eye seems to be hiding in a deep crack
in the bark, and what we recognize as an ear is nothing but the remainder of a broken-off branch.  A thick straw mat protects the old man from the cold.

Oil on canvas, 76 x 64 cm. Musée National du Louvre, Paris 

However, Arcimboldo does not see winter just as the cold season; 
this picture also contains an element of comfort.  Hanging from a
 broken branch there are an orange and a lemon: with their glowing
colours they introduce a glimmer of sunshine and warmth into the
cheerless atmosphere.  The green ivy growing from the back of
the old man's head, as well as the tangle of branches resembling a
 crown, reinforce the feeling of hope that winter will not last for ever.

If we take a closer look at the straw mat that envelopes 
Winter like a cloak, we can make out a coat of arms.  
Arcimboldo often received commissions from the Emperor
to paint the Four Seasons, and this was how he sometimes
indicated the recipient of the picture. 

From: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH
Text: Werner Kriegskorte 


  1. Oh...I could cry! This is so beautiful Karin! Merry, Merry Christmas...looks like 2011 will be even more beautiful in the blogging world!XOXO Trish

  2. Dear Trish,
    Un grand merci! For your lovely comment and your encouragement, inspiration and motivation during this year.

    Mes meilleurs Voeux pour les fetes de Noel.
    Merry Christmas - xxxkarin