Friday, January 01, 2010

Arty Farty New Year Friday

New Year's Day: a re-birth, a mini-renaissance, so, a look this Arty Farty Friday at a painter of the High Renaissance period of the 16th century: Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

I first discovered Giuseppe Arcimboldo's painting long, long ago, in a book in our school library. I was fascinated, and never forgot his work. It's interesting that there could be a loose link between Arcimboldo and astrology.
(Right: self portrait)

There's no birth data available for him other than 1527, born in Milan, Italy. He was the son of an artist who did work for the cathedral in Milan. Giuseppe obviously inherited his father's talent, began his career in the stained glass workshops of the cathedral. He grew up during the High Renaissance period and became a student of the legendary Leonardo Da Vinci. He accepted a position as Royal Painter in the imperial court where he served for 25 years. A large part of his career at the imperial court was during the reign of Rudolf II in Prague. Rudolf was Habsburg heir, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, Germany, and the Romans.

Rudolf II is said to have been one of history's famous eccentrics. He gathered around him in Prague a collection of talented individuals - "la creme de la creme". In a search to understand the deepest secrets of nature and the riddle of existence, Rudolf invited to his court the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, German mathematician Johannes Kepler, English magus John Dee, Francis Bacon, and... Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Prague was, at that time, the very hub of art and science. Rudolf is also known to have had astrologers resident at his court, and was said to rely heavily upon their predictions. He owned a pet lion who had the same rising sign as himself, and the story goes that when the lion died, Rudolf died the next day.

Arcimboldo must surely have been influenced by these "glitterati". His set of paintings of The Elements: Fire, Water, Earth, Air (see below) were perhaps commissioned by his patron whose interest in astrology and alchemy was well known. The many portraits he painted, constructed entirely of fruits, flowers, fish, animals, and occasionally books or utensils were inventive and masterful. Often described as early surrealism, they are really more allegorical than surreal. Arcimboldo also developed a serious interest in attempting to equate musical notes with visual colors, and invented an instrument with which to practice this art. I wonder if Kepler's influence was showing here, he too had ambitions related to musical science.

As well as painting for the Emperor, Arcimboldo acted as what we might nowadays call "entertainments director" to the court. He organised celebrations, parades, festivals, designed costumes and sets.

It's a pity we don't know Arcimboldo's birth date. I'll guess that Aquarius and/or Uranus features strongly in his chart. His portraits are so far from what was then standard practice. They are inventive, clever, satirical, and often comical. Leo might figure prominently too, this artist's show-bizzy abilities offer a clue. Venus, possibly in Taurus or Libra: solid artistic ability and a love of nature.

Rudolf II eventually suffered a decline in mental health as eccentricity morphed into insanity. We are grateful for his patronage of some of the greatest minds and artists of his time. Giuseppe Arcimboldo died in July 1593.








anthonynorth said...

This was an important period for human intellect, and it often disgusts me how modern scholars have virtually wiped out the leanings towards mysticism, alchemy and astrology many of these great intellectuals and artists had.
Happy New Year to you.

Twilight said...

anthonynorth ~ A happy one to you too, AN!

Yes, that period of history opened so many doors and windows - which were later closed agqain - and remain so. Very disappointing !