Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526 - 1593): The Vegetable Gardener

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526 - 1593): The Vegetable Gardener

6/28/2021, 1:20:47 PM
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526 - 1593): The Vegetable Gardener, 1587-90, Oil on wood, 36 x 24 cm, Pinacoteca del Museo Civico "Ala Ponzone", Cremona, Italy In contrast to his subject, Giuseppe Arcimboldo was a pretty exalted fellow. As court painter to successive Habsburg rulers in Vienna and Prague, he returned to his native Milan as a noble superstar, shortly before painting the gardener around 1590. Arcimboldo, according to an Italian friend, was always up to something capricciosa, or whimsical, whether it was inventing a harpsichord-like instrument, writing poetry or concocting costumes for royal pageants. He likely spent time browsing the Hapsburgs’ private collections of artworks and natural oddities in the Kunstkammer, considered a predecessor of modern museums. 'The Vegetable Gardener' belongs to a group called "reversible heads" which allow for a dual interpretation when turned upside-down, delighting the viewer with their metamorphosis. Viewed in one direction, the picture shows a traditional still-life: a metal bowl full mostly of vegetables. Turned upside-down, the forms alchemically come to life to produce a grinning face. The chubby cheeks and the long swollen nose obviously allude to the testicles and an erect penis. Similarly, the mushroom lips are reminiscent of the vaginal lips. By deliberately juxtaposing the male and female sex organs the artist clearly wished to refer to the sexual act. A possible interpretation is that the figure represented is Priapus, a fertility deity and protector of gardens.

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