fbpx
Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Arcimboldo’s Allegories of the Seasons

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Four Seasons in One Head, 1590, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA. Detail.

Seasons

Arcimboldo’s Allegories of the Seasons

Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s paintings of the four seasons have astonished audiences from the sixteenth century to this day. Even though, allegorical representations are quite common in the history of art, Arcimboldo’s portraits manage to capture the spirit of each season in a bizarre and unique way.

In the sixteenth century the world had not yet revealed all of its secrets. Explorers roamed the seas to discover new lands and scientists meticulously examined the natural world. Emperor Maximilian II, Arcimboldo’s patron, was an avid enthusiast of the new sciences of botany and zoology. During his reign, he made Vienna a center of scientific study.  

Arcimboldo revealed his skill in illustrating the new and rare specimens that came from all over the world. Taking his studies one step further, he combined them to create fantastic faces.

Winter

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Winter, 1563, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Arcimboldo’s Allegories of the Seasons: Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Winter, 1563, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

Arcimboldo painted the first series of the Four Seasons in 1563. Unfortunately, only Winter, Summer and Spring survive from the original series. Each face displays and is composed of plants and vegetables that are characteristic of each season.

Winter is cold and moody. A large tree trunk stands for the head while the nose and ears appear like twisted branches. The hair is formed by smaller twigs and ivy and his beard is made of moss. Two fungi form the mouth, giving Winter a sullen expression. From his chest extends a branch with two lemons. Winter wears a cape of woven straw decorated with a large M. The letter refers to his patron Emperor Maximilian II, and a firesteel, the symbol of the order of the Golden Fleece.

Spring

Arcimboldo's Allegories of the Seasons: Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Spring, 1563, Museo de la Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid
Arcimboldo’s Allegories of the Seasons: Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Spring, 1563, Museo de la Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain.

Flowers sprout from every nook and cranny in Spring. The most ambitious portrait in all the series, Spring features 80 different species of flowers. Blossoms fill the head and the bust is made of leaves. We can distinguish a lily that works as a hat feather and an iris as a chest medallion. In contrast to Winter’s broody expression, Spring smiles conveying the sunshine and mild weather of the season.  Even through the painting is part of the original series, King Philip II of Spain received it as gift.

Summer

Arcimboldo's Allegories of the Seasons: Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Summer, 1563, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Arcimboldo’s Allegories of the Seasons: Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Summer, 1563, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

Summer comes bearing fruits. The most relaxing time of the year beams at us. Peaches, cherries, cucumbers, and pears form this mischievous face among other fruits and vegetables. Arcimboldo added new and exotic varieties. For example, the corn that works as an ear, was imported at the time from America and the white eggplant that forms the neck, which came from Africa and Arabia. The figure wears a hat composed of interlocking greenery, oats, and summer fruits. Woven inside Summer’s cloak we see the artist’s signature, on the neck, and the date of the painting on the shoulder.

Autumn

Arcimboldo's Allegories of the Seasons: Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Autumn, 1573, Musée du Louvre, Paris
Arcimboldo’s Allegories of the Seasons: Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Autumn, 1573, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

The original version of Autumn is lost. Luckily, the Louvre holds a copy made by the artist. Emperor Maximilian was so impressed with Arcimboldo’s allegories that he asked him to make copies of the paintings and send them as gifts to monarchs around Europe.

Autumn captures the fruitful season of the harvest. The figure’s body is a broken, wooden barrel. Ripe seasonal plants like pears, apples and pomegranates compose the face. Autumn’s hair is made of grapes and vine leaves and his hat is a pumpkin. On his mushroom ear he wears a fig shaped earring.

Four Seasons in One Head

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Four Seasons in One Head, 1590, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA
Arcimboldo’s Allegories of the Seasons: Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Four Seasons in One Head, 1590, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA.

Almost 30 years after the original series of the Seasons, Four Seasons in one Head sums up Arcimboldo’s fascination with composite heads. The figure stands in three quarters view instead of the usual profile and combines elements from all the previous paintings. A twisted tree trunk, full of little stumps that represents the head remind us of Winter.  Flowers and wheat decorate the chest, characteristics of Spring and Summer, respectively. Autumn decorates the head with apples, grapes and ivy. 


Read more about Giuseppe Arcimboldo:

Art Historian, she graduated from the Department of History and Archeology of the University of Athens and has a Masters degree in Art History from the University of Sussex. She is a member of the Association of Greek Art Historians.

She has worked in the National Gallery of Art in Athens and in the 4th Athens Biennale AGORA (2013). She has taught Art History in the Municipal Art School of Aghia Paraskevi and in the digital university Iversity (Berlin). She was the assistant curator of the exhibition Inferno of George Pol. Ioannidis in the Italian Institute of Culture in Athens (2017-2018), where she presented the painter’s work in a lecture at the Institute. Her articles have been published in Ta Nea tis Technis and avopolis.gr. Recently, one of her short stories was among the winners in the 2nd short story competition of Ianos bookstore and was published.

Comments

More in Seasons

  • Art History 101

    5 Things You Should Know About Johannes Vermeer

    By

    Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter who lived and worked in the Dutch Golden Age. Along with Rembrandt and Frans Hals, he is considered one of the most important representatives of Dutch Baroque. But little is known about him. His life seems to have been as...

  • Cornelia Foscolo Balbi by Marianna Carlevarjis cover Cornelia Foscolo Balbi by Marianna Carlevarjis cover

    dailyart

    Women Artists of Venice: A New Initiative in Research and Conservation

    By

    Soon, the historical female artists of Venice will finally get their due! A new initiative, Women Artists of Venice, aims to restore artworks by at least three such women in Venetian public art collections. A series of paintings and pastels have already been selected for conservation...

  • Unequal marriage.Vasili Pukirev, Unequal Marriage, 1862, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia Unequal marriage.Vasili Pukirev, Unequal Marriage, 1862, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

    19th Century

    Unhappily Ever After: Unequal Marriage by Vasili Pukirev

    By

    Vasili Pukirev’s painting Unequal Marriage has a legend about it: allegedly, after looking at it, all the elderly grooms refused to marry their young brides. Unequal Marriage openly condemned the commercialism of Russian society. In reality, there was no magic. Just the young bride’s face, touching...

  • 19th Century

    Female vs. Male Gaze: Suzanne Valadon’s Reclining Nude

    By

    Female nudes are prevalent throughout art history. There are the ancient mythological goddesses, the Biblical Eves and Susannas, and then there are the female nudes, depictions devoid of any costume either mythological or literal. For those nudes, the formula is basically the same: a beautiful woman...

  • 20th century

    Picasso and His 15 Versions of Les Femmes d’Alger

    By

    When the Algerian War of Independence began on 1st November 1954, Pablo Picasso felt an urge to somehow respond to the violence and suffering that was spreading. He reached out to his memory and the great Romantic master, Eugène Delacroix, to reconstruct his famous work Les...

To Top