Sunday, December 26, 2010

snow makes his appearance: winter is a fact

"Winter (after Arcimboldo)," a sculpture by Philip Haas was commissioned by the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., to complement the exhibition "Arcimboldo," that is installed in the East Building. Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526-1593) painted a series of seasons for the Habsburg ruler, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II, whose intense interest in natural history was satisfied by the Milanese painter's boldly imagined personifications. Each picture is a composite assemblage of flora and fauna fashioned as a profile portrait of a season. The lips of Fall, for instance are cherries, her teeth, a peapod. Winter's lips are less sensually appealing: two polypores or mushrooms that grow on dead trees, and the tree itself form the head and its constituents, even the appalling nose; winter is an old man, long past his prime, and, though no longer virile, still supports an ivy vine among his cropped branches, a kind of wreath that endows him with dignity . Details are based on studies from nature which were then reconfigured to form a body part. Arcimboldo has succeeded brilliantly in creating an animate whole, which, when viewed from a distance, do indeed convincingly resemble a head with features and correct proportions. Only an artist of consummate skill and imagination could have accomplished such a daunting task. The outcome seamlessly weaves together delight and knowledge, Aristotle's principles for great art. How Maximilian, his courtiers and visitors must have laughed and shared stories and jokes as they contemplated these amazing paintings. Replicas and copies attest their popularity.

For more on Arcimboldo , see publications by Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, Professor of the History of Art, Princeton University, as well as studies by other scholars.

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