Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Blessed Be the Fruits of Culture

Prague around 1600



Look at the apple, look at the peach, how round and full of life, cheeks to right and left; notice, too, my eyes, of which one cerise, the other mulberry. Outside I look a monster, inside I bear noble traits, concealing a royal portrait.

Don Gregorio Comanini, The Vertumnus of Arcimboldo 1591


The jewel in the Bohemian crown: The Hradcany castle ward m Prague


Alchemists attempting to make gold, astrologers studying the stars and the constellations and physicists desiring to build a machine of perpetual motion and to square the circle were amongst the Laputan circle of scholars that Emperor RudolfII (1576—1612) assembled at Hradcany castle in Prague. The most important member of the Habsburg dynasty ever to reside there, Rudolf II was renowned as a generous patron of the arts. Nonetheless, many of his contemporaries were convinced that his hobbies kept him from the more pressing business of rulmg. They were particularly suspicious of the Emperor's passion for all things arcane: mythology, occult phenomena and the mysterious powers of nature. In short, the Emperor was regarded as an introverted weakling who was incapable of making decisions. Needless to say, Rudolf could afford to ignore such objections. He was supported in all his interests by a fatherly friend, a man of the "keenest intellectual powers", who was as highly respected as widely read and scholarly. This cultured man came from Milan and was named Giuseppe Arcimboldo. In his youth, Arcimboldo had designed stained-glass windows for Milan Cathedral. In 1562 he was called by Emperor Ferdinand I, Rudolf's grandfather, to the Habsburg Court, where he stayed on to serve three generations of the dynasty with great loyalty. He is first mentioned in the imperial records of 1565 as an official portrait painter to the Court. However, he was not just a painter. "Arcimboldo's noble intellect invented a great many clever, charming and unusual things for the magnificent revels held at Court", a contemporary reported. The masques Arcimboldo designed as settings for those court festivities must have been impressive. He once staged a mythological parade with real elephants and fake dragons, which were really horses in disguise. Today Arcimboldo is remembered primarily for his witty allegorical paintings. Flowers, fruits, fishes, birds, roots and even books are ingeniously arranged to form recognisable portraits. Drawing on botany, landscape architecture and hunting, Arcimboldo found all the inspiration he needed in the Habsburg "Wunderkammer", or cabinet of curiosities, which was overflowing with marvels: giant shells, sword fish, mummies, rare precious stones, stuffed animals and exotic artefacts from India. There was even a "devil confined in a glass". Arcimboldo did not look on his paintings as mere conceits in the Renaissance tradition; he meant them to be profoundly symbolic. The portrait of Rudolf II as Vertumnus, the Roman god of vegetation and the seasons, was certainly not meant as a travesty or a parody. On the contrary, the court portrait painter's intention was to honour his Emperor as the personification of generous patronage and cultural enlightenment. Arcimboldo's homage to his patron did not help Rudolf politically, however, for his brother Matthias still succeeded in deposing him. His reason for doing so was that Rudolf was no longer capable of reigning, owing to so many other distractions.


Giuseppe Arcimboldo
The Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus
Skokloster Castle, Stockholm


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