Giuseppe Archimboldo 1527 - 1593; Werner Kriegeskorte, Taschen.
I was very happy to find this in the library recently. My dad has a copy and it was my favourite picture book when I was young. I liked it so much, I am told, that I slept with it in my bed. In fact, I would regularly make a fortress of books inside which I would sleep, but I treated this one almost as a companion.
Pretty cool really for a 6 year old to be into Archimboldo. It still mystifies me that he was painting in the mid 16th century: if I had to take an educated guess with no background knowledge I would really struggle. I can’t say I’m any expert on this period of art history (or any art history for that matter, I am after all an enthusiastic amateur). I think that’s partially because his paintings are so distinctly unlike anything I know.
Archimboldo was the Court painter to a number of Emperors in Prague. He was also architect, stage designer, engineer, water engineer and art specialist and was very highly regarded during his lifetime. Though he was clearly extremely intelligent in a number of ways, his paintings appear to have been dismissed and misunderstood by the generations that followed. Subsequently, his exploits, considered ‘childish’ have become eclipsed by the ‘genius’ of contemporaries such as Titian.
This is very interesting really. The fact that these paintings captured the interest of a child so completely does not mean these paintings are, themselves, ‘childish.’ This would be a very weak, nonsensical argument; an insult to the sophistication of a child’s imagination. If anything, I think it is a very positive sign, for children often appreciate and experience the world in a far more intense, direct way than adults, who allow rationality to cloud feelings of pure joy.
His paintings are odd, certainly, and there are very few originals that survive which doesn’t help. But I think they are fascinating. They tread a precarious line between the beautiful and the grotesque. They don’t make much sense either (the ‘adult’ in me). But to my mind, this is almost always a good thing.