Giuseppe Arcimboldo (The First "True" Surrealist?)

The Great Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Self-portrait

McLuhen once noted: "the need for a ratio and interplay among the senses as the very constitution of rationality." A few years ago I was rummaging through a large collection of books in the far-corner of an Antique shop in a small town, digging through 70+ year old rarities and gems (the years were spread throughout the time-line) that had me soaring into some invisible obstacle (strange to most people) of some supramundane seraphim (and this wasn't "Angels and Antecedents," either! - amorinis and the deity-like feeling of floating amongst such a miraculous spectacle of magnificent book-love; completely swooned over) that my "en route" was about as common as the Titus Andronicus, for the most part. Upon arriving, eyes growing operatic, like a body-song, and I always felt as though I was out picking private plums for my Grandmother (we used to pick raspberries and blueberries together; much love, much love), books in my presence, like something burning within!. . .(Napolean once said that he would cover his Josephine "with a million kisses burning as though beneath the equator."). . .promptly entrained (drained) all of my energy into searching for hours on end (all-the-while wishing [and muttering to myself] how I wish I were "rich enough to purchase these books").

Vertumnus (portrait of Rudolph II), 1591

Some of the books I gathered (a must-need) were the rarities entitled, Horizon: A Magazine of The Arts (but in hard-back book-form!), which, from my knowledge, were at least published throughout the 50s and into the 60s (though I am uncertain of their stopping-point). One of these books [November 1960 * Volume III, Number 2] had an interesting painting that I still haven't "gotten over" that was the very first image one sees when they open the book (before the contents-page); ie: the Frontispiece.

Of course, after aspiring to find out who the painting was by, I came across the small write-up on the following page of the painting, which says the following:

The Trojan Horse, that eternal symbol of deceit, was an innocent-looking
wooden effigy filled with armed and waiting Greeks. When the Milanese painter
Giuseppe Arcimboldo addressed himself to this idea, he carried it a step
further: omitting wood, he composed his horse entirely of the writhing bodies of
soldiers. Its eyes are two dark heads, its mane a row of flaming torches.
Arcimboldo's grotesqueries were much admired by the Hapsburgs, who made him
court painter at Prague from 1562 to 1587. Today he is admired by the
surrealists, who look at him as a precursor.

Summer, 1563

At that time, which seems like so long ago, I had already been studying the surrealists, so my eyes gleamed with joy when I read the final line of the frontispiece-contents, "Today he is admired by the surrealists, who look at him as a precursor." The keyword for me in that sentence is precursor. "Amazing!," I thought to myself, which I said a few times in my mind. For me, it was like the singing-scene when the Queen enters from the play, The Play of Daniel, in which she sings, ". . .with sonorous tones of strings and voices let music now be made." And, oh, my heart was certainly singing!

After researching this amazing Italian painter, I was completely struck by the surrealism of his portrait-work, and then concluding that this fellow was far ahead of his time (which, I imagine I am not the only one whom has concluded such ideas!).
Perhaps the first Surrealist of all-time? Salvador Dali, mind you, was a fan of his work, which should tell you a little something. From Wiki: "Arcimboldo's conventional work, on traditional religious subjects, has fallen into oblivion, but his portraits of human heads made up of vegetables, fruit and tree roots, were greatly admired by his contemporaries and remain a source of fascination today. Art critics are now debating whether these paintings were whimsical or the product of a deranged mind."
Since these events, Arcimboldo has gone on to become one of my favorite painters. I periodically find that I want to paint in similar elegances. Apparently I am not the only one. Check out Jan Švankmajer (a Czech surrealist) who has, himself, influenced such famous names as Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and The Brothers Quay to name a few.
Other good reads about Arcimboldo here, here and here. (I want those models!)

Flora, 1591


un mec quelconque said...

I wouldn't say at all he was the first surrealist, because one of the premises of surrealism is the lack of reason, and that's not clear in his work.
An excellent painter with GREAT ideas, though!

Derrick said...

Who said that the primary "basis" for surrealism is the "lack of reason?" There's reason enough to paint or 'create' (however one wants to expel their creations) surrealistic pieces, just as there is "reason" behind most everything one actionates. However, I do agree to a certain extent, considering that Surrealism is "dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation." Hm, I wonder if perhaps Dadarealism would be best suited?!

The "influence" that Arcimboldo had on Dali is quite apparent, in regards to the "visual" abstractions of how surrealism manifests itself.