Thursday, February 27, 2014


448 years ago the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, painted 4 spooky heads for the Emperor. 
Arcimboldo lived in the Emperor's castle in Prague, Bohemia (now Czech Republic).   It was the coolest and the largest castle in Christendom and there lived 2 Emperors, Maximilian and his son Rudolf.  Its was bit like Hogwart’s Castle, only long, long ago. They loved magic and exotic animals and they wanted to find the Philosopher’s stone that would turn metal into gold.  They had an even crazier idea: they wanted to turn the elements into humans and Arcimboldo had a plan:

Step back and what do you see?
Now come closer and what do you see?
Write down what you find!

They are paintings that stand for something else-an idea and a hidden message.
Clue: once you name the place where each group of animals lives, you will have figured out 3 symbols.
What makes up the 4th head?
Now name all 4 elements.

In the Four Elements Arcimboldo shows us the Emperor’s love for animals and science but there is a hidden message within the puzzle: POWER.  
The Emperor thinks he rules over humans, the earth, the skies, the waters and has guns to fire at his enemies.

The necklace with the ram pendant is called the "Order of the Golden Fleece", which the Emperor bestows on his bravest knights. Remember your Greek Myths: “Jason, the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece”?

Find the double-headed eagle, the coat of arms of the Emperor.

Zoom in on the lower right and you will find the artist's signature in Latin: Josephus Arcimboldus Mlnensis. F.

He studies the animals and makes many drawings on paper.
A carpenter slices a piece of wood sideways, lets it dry and sands it until smooth.
Arcimboldo mixes powdered minerals or plants with linseed oil to make oil paints.
Covers panel with a dark ground, gesso (chalk+water) or dark brown paint to make a smooth surface, one can't paint on raw wood.
Makes a fine under-drawing with charcoal, pencil, thin paint or even taking the back of a brush to push the outlines into the wet paint.  
Builds up the paint by applying many layers with brushes made of animal hair.  First layer of paint is thick and opaque (lots of pigment) and then each layer after is more transparent (more oil, less pigment).  This is called glazing and makes the painting look rich and luminous.

Did Arcimboldo paint all four?  NO
One is a COPY (painted by someone else)-which one is it?
HINT: look at them carefully side-by-side and see which ones are really powerful and scary and are painted with rich paint. One is bit flat (one layer of paint) and looks more like a poster, can you see the difference?

Will you draw a crazy head? GO!

-Earth, Oil on wood panel, 70 x 48.5 cm, private collection, Austria
-Water, Oil on alder wood, 66.5 x 50, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Vienna, Austria
-Air, WATCH OUT-copy, 70 x 48,5 cm, Private collection, Basel
-Fire, Oil on lime wood, signed lower right, 66.5 x 51 cm, 
Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Austria

More on Arcimboldo:

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