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The Life and Works of Arcimboldo (The Life…
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The Life and Works of Arcimboldo (The Life and Works Art Series)

by Diana Craig

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Arcimboldo -- Self Portrait

If there is anything uniquely individual in our human, all too human life here on planet earth, it is our tastes -- our taste for specific foods, certain music, movies and literature, particular seasons of the year, styles of dress, what we find attractive in men and women, etc. etc. etc.., and, of course, individual taste also extends to our preferences in painting and art. In a certain way, it doesn’t matter what other people, even experts or maybe especially experts, have to say about the virtues of works of art; for example, if we don’t particularly care for pop art, we are not going to enjoy viewing Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein, no matter what experts tell us we ‘should’ enjoy. Personally, I find the range of human tastes fascinating – an important element in what makes us distinctively who we are.

I mention respect for the tastes of others since one of my all-time favorite artists is Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593), painter of human portraits as a composite of fruits, flowers, vegetables, fish, mammals, roots, leaves, branches, reptiles, birds, books, jewelry, metals and fire. Does my list overlook anything? Probably, since the art of Arcimboldo is as intricate, elaborate and detailed as any portraiture can be intricate, elaborate and detailed. Anyway, when it comes to bizarre art like this, you either like it or don’t like it.

So, if Arcimboldo’s art is appealing to you, then this little book put out by SMITHMARK Publishers with biographical sketch and notes by Diana Craig will make an excellent addition to your collection. There are several dozen of the artist’s works reproduced here, most in full color and many including enlarged detail. The paper is high-quality and glossy, appropriate for presenting this artist’s highly individual technique. My comments on three portraits I particularly find captivating:

Vertumnus – What a portrait! Emperor Rudolph II decked out as Vertumnus from Roman mythology, the god of seasons and change, gardens, fruit trees and plant growth. He’s a mixture of fruits, vegetables, flowers and grains -- forehead a green gourd, eyebrows peas in a pod, nose a pear, rosy red apples for rosy red cheeks, bottom lip cherries, breast a large bulbous green squash and there are white, red, orange and white flowers forming a decorative sash. What gives this portrait a regal flourish are the grapes, berries and grains crowning his head, all in a striking symmetry.


Summer – The man’s portrait is in profile with the fruits and vegetables fully ripe, a ripe pear for the nose, ripe apple for the cheek, a mushroom for the ear and various leaves as well as lots of clusters of grapes for the hair. Below the neck there are slats of wood as a stand-in for a jacket. The prominent color is brown. The portrait is framed by somber flower and leaves in late summer colors – browns, dark greens and burnt oranges.


The Librarian -- Since readers here on Goodreads are book-lovers, what better way to conclude this review that note how the librarian head and body is a composite of books, a stack of books for the body, a book set at a 45 degree angle for the nose, a book for an arm, bookmarks for fingers and pages of a book for hair. Can you see yourself with the body and head of this renaissance artist’s librarian? If you are a voracious reader, probably so. Ah, Arcimboldo! Our world has been made much richer by your imagination and art.



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  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
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