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L’esoterico e pareidolitico Arcimboldo

The esoteric and pareidolithic Arcimboldo


Cheerful man heaven helps him

One of the strangest painters in history is from Milan: Giuseppe Arcimboldo. His works can be recognized immediately and without a doubt: they are portraits composed of objects, fruit and flowers. It seems like a joke, but his idea led him directly to the court of Maximilian II of Habsburg as a court painter.

If we consider the hardships that many great masters have had to go through to establish themselves, one would think that actually someone is born with a shirt.

But let's go in order.

A Milanese “giugatton” *

Giuseppe Arcimboldo was born in Milan on April 5, 1526. His father Biagio is a painter accredited to the “Fabbrica del Duomo” and, more importantly, he is part of an aristocratic Milanese family, the feudal counts of Arcisate, the Arcimboldi.

Giuseppe follows in his father's footsteps and, at 23, he enters his father's shop. He undertakes to make the drawings on cardboard that will be used to make the windows of the Milan Cathedral. Not much is known about Arcimboldo's activity from these years, but it is known that he also worked for the Cathedral of Monza and the Cathedral of Como. 

He worked intensely and not only as a painter: caricatures, projects for parties and sets that at the time were considered "bizarre".

* (giugatton in Milanese means joker)


At the King's court

The turning point is 1562 when Joseph leaves for Vienna invited to court by the prince, and future emperor, Maximilian II. In the Austrian capital, Arcimboldo, he quickly acquires international fame, but with what works?

The works that have come down to us all focus on the grotesque tables that Giuseppe composed using the most varied objects. Arcimboldo skillfully used the "pareidolia", or the ability of our mind to give meaning to indefinite forms by interpreting them as known forms.

For example, when we are lying calmly on a meadow and look at the clouds and we are convinced that we see a face, a pony, a profile, this is pareidolia.

Reversible paintings

With this technique, Arcimboldo painted allegories of the four seasons, elements of Aristotelian cosmology (Air, Fire, Earth, Water) and portraits ... reversible, as in the image of the post which, in fact, can be turned over and becomes a fruit basket .

At the king's court, Giuseppe did not only make paintings, but he also took care of organizing masquerades, games, fantastic processions, choreographies with swans, mermaids, extraordinary hairstyles and everything his imagination could imagine.

The wedding of Archduke Charles II of Austria to Maria Anna of Wittelsbach is memorable, in which Arcimboldo proves himself to be the great inventor and director of wedding glories.

Magical compositions

On the death of Maximilian II Arcimboldo passed into the service of his successor Rudolf II who, if possible, appreciated even more the creativity of the Milanese because the new King was passionate about esotericism, mysteries and curiosities of art, science and natural things.

Thus Arcimboldo becomes the interpreter of the magical-kabbalistic culture that Rudolph II liked so much.

In time his playful streak was interpreted in several ways. Who saw a monstrous restlessness, who of the symbolic and mysterious messages and who, like Salvator Dalì, of surrealism "ante litteram".

He died in Milan at the age of 66 on 11 July 1593 and was buried in the family crypt.

Who knows what jokes and what forms he would have devised for his funeral procession, if he had foreseen it.
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