25 March, 2006

Gheeraerts & Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo
1527 - 1593 Milan, Italy

Italian painter. In the middle of the sixteenth century Arcimboldo made a normal debut with youthful works including designs for window s and tapestries respectively in Milan and Monza cathedrals and frescos for the cathedral of Como. None of these gave any inkling of the bizarre originality he would soon develop. In 1562 he was summoned to the Imperial court in Prague and almost immediately his original and grotesque fantasy was unleashed.

He invented a portrait type consisting of painted animals,flowers, fruit, and objects composed to form a human likeness. Some are satiric portraits of court personages, and others are allegorical personifications. Arcimboldo's style has been so often imitated over the centuries that it is sometimes difficult to make exact attributions. He has been seen by some as the forerunner of Surrealism in the 20th century, but, more to the point, he should be seen in his own context at the end of the Renaissance. This was a time when people (collectors and scientists alike) were beginning to pay more attention to nature. Arcimboldo really created the fantastic image of the court in Prague, creating costumes, set designs, and decorations.

Emperor Rudolf II set him the task of researching and buying works of art and natural curiosities, as well as giving him countless commissions for paintings. In 1587 Arcimboldo went back to Milan but stayed in contact with the Emperor. Towards the end of his life, he sent the Emperor the idiosyncratic portrait of him in the guise of the Greek god Vertemnus.


more info

Marcus Gheeraerts (Brugge, circa 1520-London, circa 1590)

the aesops fables
Aesop’s fables have been told through pictures since their first appearance on a fifth century vase displaying a single image of the fox and the grapes. The fables were represented visually through illuminated manuscripts, and later in 1461 as woodcuts by an anonymous artist in the first printed illustrated book. From the 15th century to the 17th century, each new edition of Aesop’s fables was re-illustrated with engravings that closely resembled one another in compositional and stylistic motifs.

In 1567, the Flemish artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder created a series of engravings which included more realistic detail than the 1461 woodcuts.
Francis Cleyn (1651) and Wenceslaus Hollar (1665) closely mimicked Gheeraerts' engravings with minimal changes. Francis Barlow (1666) reinvented the old motifs, adding drama and variation to the compositions. His series is the most elaborate of the British illustrations; artists
copied him throughout the following centuries (Hodnett)


Marcus Gheeraerts came to London from Bruges in 1568, when Queen Elizabeth was 35. He lived here until 1577, but his son, also named Marcus, stayed in this country and continued the family tradition as a brilliant court painter. Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, signed Gheererts, could be painted by father or son, unless a particular portrait was commissioned and painted after 1577, in which case it would have been the work of the son. No-one knows when the mystery portrait at Hampton Court was painted.

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