ARCIMBOLDO, Giuseppe
(b. 1526, Milano, d. 1593, Milano)

Summer

1563
Oil on panel, 67 x 51 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The painting is part of a cycle dedicated to the four seasons. Each one is symbolically represented by a startling and evocative juxtaposition of fruits and objects typical of that time of the year. Arcimboldo found this subject particularly congenial and often painted groups of pictures on a theme. Not only did he paint the four seasons, but also the four elements (Earth, Air, Water, and Fire).

The painting originally belonged to a series of the Four Seasons. Summer, the only dated picture of the series, carries the date 1563. For the first time, Arcimboldo composes heads from all kinds of objects, whose selection gives meaning to the allegory. As attested by among others, a maiolica plate from 1536, this compositional method was certainly not invented by Arcimboldo, but the sophistication and imagination with which the painter applies the themes in the picture-puzzles are a very personal achievement, and the many later copies serve to reveal in their weaknesses and simplifications Arcimboldo's true originality.

In the profile bust of Summer, the cheek and neck area are composed of a large peach, quince, garlic, white young onions, yellow beets and white eggplant; the mouth and lips are formed of cherries and the open peapod within imitates a row of teeth. The nose is a young wild cucumber and the chin is a pear; the eye shines as a glassy sour cherry between two small pears. The bulge of the forehead seems to be made of brown-skinned onions; even the eyebrows - a curved grain-ear - are not overlooked. On the temple are three hazelnuts in their covers, and in the place of the ear is a dried corncob. The ensemble is completed with a head covering, effectively a cap or a hat made of fruit and vegetables bedded in greenery, from which emerge oat spikes resembling a hat feather. The clothing in woven straw has a single artichoke and the woven signature and date sophisticatedly integrated into the composition as jewellery.




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