An exhibition organised by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in collaboration with the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris
The concept for the show, a collaboration between the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Musée du Luxembourg, was elaborated by Dr. Sylvia Ferino, the KHM’s curator for Italian Renaissance painting.
Though celebrated for his intriguing portraits composed of plants, fruits and animals as well as of inorganic objects such as books, Arcimboldo (1526-1593) remains something of a “mystery” despite his popularity.
The artist was born in Milan where he started his career by working on designs for windows for the city’s cathedral. He worked in his hometown, specialising mainly in religious paintings, before being called to Vienna in 1562 by Maximilian, the eldest son of the Emperor Ferdinand I. For the next twenty-five years he served as court painter to the Emperor Maximilian II and his son, the Emperor Rudolf II, both in Vienna and in Prague, before returning to Milan in 1587.
Besides executing portraits of members of the Imperial family, Arcimboldo was also in charge of organising and designing tournaments, weddings, coronations and other celebrations held at the Imperial court. The exhibition documents the weird and wonderful combination of nature, science and art that is manifested in his work.
In 1563 he painted a series of depictions of the Seasons that in their strangeness and uniqueness served as the basis for the artist’s fame when he was rediscovered by the Surrealists and Dadaists in the early 20th century. Two of the three extant paintings from this first series of the Seasons are included in the exhibition: “Summer” and “Winter”, both now belong to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Arcimboldo painted another version of the series in 1573. It is now held by the Louvre and will also be included in the exhibition.
Another series, painted in 1566 and depicting the Elements – “Fire”, “Water”, “Air” and “Earth” – is also of seminal importance when trying to understand Arcimboldo’s work. All these heads are guided by the same unique principle: they have been assembled from plants, animals and objects related to the respective subject, but without depicting even the smallest fraction of a real human face.
Four exceptional composite heads and seven real portraits as well as many of the other loans that help to explain Arcimboldo in context come from the holdings of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, among them precious objects d’art from the Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts. Many other exhibits are loaned by other museums or private collectors from a total of twelve different countries. This is the first-ever monographic exhibition dedicated to Arcimboldo and it will be on show in Paris from September 15, 2007 until January 13, 2008, before moving to Vienna where it will be shown at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
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