Today artratcafe CAFÉ begins a new series – Playing With Your Food. This series will feature historical and contemporary artists who use food in their art – both real and illusionary.
This week the featured artist is the Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527 – 1593). Arcimboldo was an Italian painter famous for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of fruits, vegetables, flowers and fish. His conventional work, on traditional religious subjects, has fallen into oblivion, but his portraits of human heads made up of organic objects, were greatly admired by his contemporaries and remain a source of fascination today.
In 1573 Arcimboldo created a series of heads based on the four seasons. All are oil on canvas and can be seen in The Louvre, Paris, France.
Arcimboldo was perhaps the first artist to use food to create an image, though his work was in paint, not made of actual food. From a distance, his portraits look like normal human portraits. However, individual objects in each portrait were actually overlapped together to make various anatomical shapes of a human. They were carefully constructed by his imagination.
Art critics debate whether Arcimboldo’s paintings were simply whimsical or the product of a deranged mind. A majority of scholars hold to the view, however, that given the Renaissance fascination with riddles, puzzles, and the bizarre, Arcimboldo, far from being mentally imbalanced, catered to the taste of his times.
Vertumnus – 1591 (oil on wood. exhibited at Skoklosters Slott. Balsta, Sweden) was particularly appreciated by everyone, especially by the Emperor Rudolph 11. It is a head-and-shoulder portrait of the Emperor, showing him in the form of Vertumnus, the ancient Roman god of vegetation and transformation.
The job of a renaissance court portraitist was to produce likenesses of his sovereigns to display at the palace and give to foreign dignitaries or prospective brides. It went without saying the portraits should be flattering. Yet Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted his royal patron, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, as a heap of fruits and vegetables. With pea pod eyelids and a gourd for a forehead, he looks less like a king than a crudité platter.
Lucky for Arcimboldo, Rudolf had a sense of humor. And he had probably grown accustomed to the artist’s visual wit. Arcimboldo served the Hapsburg family for more than 25 years, creating oddball “composite heads” made of sea creatures, flowers, dinner roasts and other materials.
Arcimboldo’s work had a surreal quality long before the advent of the Surrealist Art movement, and his ‘food portraits’ no doubt inspired many of the other artists who will be featured in this series.
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