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Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527 - 1593)

Lot 105: *Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593)


May 23, 2001
New York, NY, US

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*Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593)
oil on canvas
35 1/2 by 27 1/2 in. 90.2 by 69.8 cm.
Arcimboldo is one of the most fascinating and unique artists of the Western tradition. His fame, which was considerable even in his own time, is founded on the basis of his series of fantastic composite heads executed for Emperor Maximilian II at his court in Vienna and, later, for Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. Arcimboldo was a member of a prominent Milanese family and the son of Biagio, also a painter. He was first summoned for imperial service by Ferdinand I in 1562 and, by 1564, is recorded as a portrait painter for Maximilian II. He also served the court as an organizer of festivals, tournaments and theatrical presentations.
The present painting relates to a composition from the artist's most famous series, The Four Seasons, which he presented to Emperor Maximilian II on New Years Day, 1569. Each season is depicted as an anthropomorphic head, made up of fruit, fish, flowers and virtually anything else the artist thought would suit his purposes. To further the allegory, each head corresponds to a season in Man's life. For example, Spring is depicted as a young man made of flowers, while Winter is an old man with a scraggly beard made out of gnarled branches. These depictions were meant not only to amuse the King and his court, but were also meant as allegorical allusions to the imperial rule (see T.D. Kaufmann, "The Allegories and Their Meaning," in the Arcimboldo Effect, Transformations of the Face from the 16th Century to the 20th Century, catalogue of the exhibition, Venice, Palazzo Grassi, 1987, pp. 89-108). Their meanings have been further clarified by the discovery of poems written by Arcimboldo's friend and colleague Giovanni Battista Fonteo. Of the original series on panel given to the Emperor, Summer (dated 1563) and Winter are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; the Spring in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid is now thought to be part of that series as well. The original Autumn is lost.
Undoubtedly, the great success of these fantastic heads was considerable, and Arcimboldo took up these compositions again later in his career. The present depiction of Autumn was once considered a workshop replica (see Literature below), but recent scholarship has re-established its autograph status. It forms part of one of the later autograph series of which one other painting survives, the Summer now in the Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado; it is also oil on canvas, with nearly identical dimensions (90 by 70 cm.), and also formerly in the Bridel-Boiceau collection, Lausanne. The Denver Summer is dated 1572 giving a circa date of the same year to the present painting.
Another autograph and complete series of The Four Seasons (also oil on canvas, the Summer dated 1573) is in the Musee du Louvre.
Bridel-Boiceau collection, Lausanne
Denver, Denver Museum of Art, on loan, December 1999-April 2001
T.D. Kaufmann, The School of Prague, Painting at the Court of Rudolf II, 1988, p. 165, under cat. no. 2.3 (as a workshop replica, based on photographs)

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Old Master Paintings

May 23, 2001, 12:00 AM EST

New York, NY, US

For Sale from Sotheby's