Thursday, 24 November 2011

Old Master's Autumn

Guiseppe Arcimboldo, 1527 - 1593
"....perfect in his uniqueness, as are only the great".

Autumn, 1573
Musee National du Louvre, Paris

A broken old tub is held together by some wicker branches in a somewhat make shift arrangement, 
and a head protrudes from it. It is the head of a rather rough sort of fellow,  and is made up of autumn produce.

His bulbous nose is a juicy pear, his healthy-looking cheek is a ripe apple, his chin is a pomegranate and his ear is a large mushroom, which could be a russula. It seems appropriate that the ear-ring should be an over-ripe, burst fig.    His head is crowned with red and white grapes, reddish vine-leaves and a gigantic squash,   thus reminding us of Arcimboldo's earlier depictions of Baccus.

The sumptuousness of the fruit is an indication of the fertility of autumn, and the sharp tongue which comes through the prickly lips seems to signal Autumn's joyful anticipation of culinary delights.


As in "The four seasons", in the series of "The four elements"
Arcimboldo assigned to any element a face formed by the most characteristic of any of them.

In addition, this series has an evident connection with "The four seasons".
Both series are organised by a hypothetical "axis of symmetry",
confronting the air with the spring, the summer with the fire,
and the autumn with the earth.

Earth, around 1570
Private collection, Vienna

...a head which consists of over forty different animals...

The ibex, an animal which lives in the Tyrolean mountains, has been inserted in the back of the neck,
together with the rhinoceros, the mule, the monkey, the bear and the wild boar.
 Above the forehead are the camel, the lion and the horse.
And the nice thing is that all the animals with antlers have arranged their weapons around the forehead,
thus forming a king's crown:  that was an amazingly clever idea,and it decorates the head very nicely, too.
The area behind the cheek (the head being in profile)
is formed by an elephant whose ear is large enough to be the ear of the whole figure.
A donkey underneath the elephant fills out the lower jaw.
For the front portion of the cheek a wolf was forced to render its service, its mouth wide open and about to snap at a mouse: its open mouth is the eye, and the mouse the pupil of the eye.
The tail and the leg of the mouse form a moustache just above the upper lip.
On the forehead, sitting among the other animals, there is a fox with its tail curled up, which forms the eyebrow.
There is a hare on the wolf's shoulder, forming the nose, and a cat's head which is the upper lip.
Instead of a chin there is a tiger, held up by the elephant's trunk. The trunk is rolled up and forms the lower lip of the figure's mouth. A lizard can be seen coming out of the open mouth.
The curvature of the entire neck is formed by a recumbent ox, together with a fawn."


"I think if there are buffoons today, then that is nothing new.
There have always been eccentrics who were probably also buffoons.
But there is an important difference:
if nowadays someone suddenly discovers the genius in him,
even though yesterday he could not even draw, then that seems a bit insincere to me.
When, on the other hand, the early pioneers discovered beauty in ugliness or vice versa,
they were in fact faultless masters of their craft and, partly because they were relative beginners,
had a certain straightforwardness about them.  And because they were straightforward,
they were original.  Indeed, this ugliness surpassed all beauty and included
the sort of satire that delighted the artist's customer,
the jokes that were told again and again among the bored inhabitants of the various courts,
it included those optical illusions and that artistic mimicry.
All this is just one more reason why it is worthwhile spending time and effort
to studying a painter who was indeed a genius,
who used to entertain three emperors at the time of Titian and Tintoretto
and who still entertains us today."
who published in 1954 his extremely thorough analysis
I dipinti ghiribizzosi di Giuseppe Arcimboldi

 Autumn, 1572
Private collection, Berlin

This picture of Autumn differs from the one in the Louvre
through its sharp contrasts of light and darkness.
Some of the grapes, for instance, are almost black,
whereas the face is generally very bright indeed.
The change of format is made necessary by the tub,
which is longer than in the other picture.
What is particularly striking, however, is the relatively light background,
which is rare in Arcimboldo's art.
Beyond that, there are only very few differences.
The level of artistic quality is the same in both paintings.


H A P P Y    T H A N K S G I V I N G !

Arcimboldo's  "Spring"   here
Arcimboldo's  "Summer"  here
Arcimboldo's biography and Benno Geiger  here 


  1. I remembered being awed by Autumn in the Louvre.
    Incredibly detailed.

    And a Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Karin!
    Hope you and Ron are well!

  2. Beautiful. I remember when I first saw these paintings - I thought they were modern art until I studied them a bit more. What a fun guy Arcimboldo must have been!

  3. Amazing! And I thought that the quote by Benno Geiger was fascinating--applicable to a lot of culture actually.

    Bon WE!

  4. Hello ! yes these are truly amazing I remember the first time I saw autumn ( in a book) clever... and a fabulous quote to go with them too ! Thank you and have a nice weekend ! Gail x

  5. I have seen representations of these images but do not remember viewing the first at the Louvre. Arcimboldo was clever with an artist's imagination.


  6. These are such amazing pictures and it's so cleaver what humans are able to design with everyday objects even if it was centuries ago.

    Thank you for your Thanksgiving wishes Karin!

  7. Brilliant in the detail and beautiful...but to me as a viewer, I must say makes me feel uneasy for some reason. Not in the sense a Picaso makes me feel, just a strange thought...brilliant, yet disorderly in its order! Any art that makes one think, feel emotion or question is a masterpiece! As beauty is in the eye of the beholder...this is the perfect example!
    Blessings dear Karin!

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  9. Fabulous. The creativity and wit of others never ceases to amaze and delight me.
    Bonne semaine Karin.