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Gustav Klimt – Appetite for Seduction

primavesi

Gustav Klimt is remembered as one of the greatest decorative painters of the XX century and Vienna’s most renowned advocator of Art Nouveau or Jugendstil who produced one of the century’s most significant bodies of erotic art.

His artistic style was determinedly eclectic, borrowing motifs from Greek, Byzantine and Egyptian art, inspired by the ethereal atmosphere of work by artists such as Aubrey Beardsley, and by some aspects of Impressionist technique.

Although Klimt’s art in widely popular nowadays, it was neglected for much of the 20th century, provoked opposition in his own day, facing charges of obscenity and objections to his lightly allusive approach to symbolism.
 
His treatment of erotic themes was delicate in general, and veiled in his paintings, but his drawings gave full expression to his considerable sexual appetite.

judith II gustav klimt

Youth & Family

Gustav Klimt was the second of the seven children born to Ernst Klimt, a Bohemian immigrant and gold engraver, and Anne Finster, an aspiring but unsuccessful musical performer who had never realized her dream of becoming a professional musician.
 
The Klimt family was poor, as work was scarce in the early years of the Habsburg Empire, especially for immigrants, due in large part to the 1873 stock market crash.

Klimt and his two brothers, Ernst and Georg, at an early age, displayed obvious artistic gifts; Gustav was singled out by his instructors as an exceptional draftsman while attending secondary school.

In October 1876, when he was fourteen, Klimt was encouraged by his relative to take the entrance examination for the Viennese School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstwerbeschule) and he passed with distinction. He got a full scholarship, which was no small matter considering the both his youth and the relative poverty in which he had been raised.

Klimt began his formal training in Vienna at a time known as the Ringstrasse Era, when the city was undergoing massive change. The center was constructed as one giant ring, and the bourgeois class was patronizing the arts as never before.
 
Vienna was entering its Golden Age of industry, science and research, but one thing Vienna did not have yet, however, was a revolutionary spirit towards the arts.

The Kunstgewerbeschule’s teaching methods and curriculum were fairly traditional for their time, something Klimt never questioned or changed. He received a conservative, classical training; through an intensive training in drawing, he was changed with faithfully copying decorations, designs and plaster casts of classic sculptures.
 
From the very beginning, Klimt impressed his teachers and joining a special class with a focus on painting. During the training, his work included close studies of the works of Titian, Hans Makart, the most famous Viennese historical painter of the Ringstrasse Era, and Pieter Paul Rubens.
 
Klimt became a huge admirer of Makart and especially his technique which employed dramatic effects of light and a pretty evident love for pageantry and theatricality.

 

Hans Makart – Die Falknerin

Before leaving the Kunstgewerbeschule, Klimt’s painting class was joined by his younger brother Ernst and a young painter Franz Matsch, another gifted Viennese artist who specialized in large-scale decorative works. Matsch and Klimt both ended their studies in 1883, and together, the two rented a large studio in Vienna.
 
Calling themselves the Company of Artists, they agreed to focus their work on murals and also to set aside any personal artistic inclinations in favor of the historical style popular among Vienna’s upper class and aristocracy at that time.
 
The decision proved to be a good one, as it not only won them numerous commissions to paint theaters, churches and other public space, but also allowed them to work interchangeably on their projects

The two, soon became artists in high demand among the city’s cultural elite, including society figures, public officials and prominent architects

In 1888, the Vienna City Council commissioned each artist to create a painting as a historical record of the city’s old Burgtheater, which was slated for demolition. Klimt’s painting, The Auditorium of the Old Burgtheater (1888-89), employed a unique perspective by painting the auditorium from the vantage point of the stage rather than the auditorium itself.

Upheaval

In 1890, Klimt, his brother Ernst and Matsch joined the Vienna Artists’ Association, a conservative art group that controlled the majority of the exhibitions in the city. Although Klimt continued to align himself with the more traditional factions of the art world, he was soon to experience changes in his personal life that would send him off on a path all his own.

By the end of 1892, his father and his brother Ernst died and these deaths profoundly affected Klimt, who was now left financially responsible for his sisters, mother, brother’s widow Helen Flöge and their infant daughter.

In that dramatic period of his life and personal tragedy, Klimt began questioning the conventions of academic painting and began to reject the naturalistic trappings of his training in favor of a more personal style, one that relied on symbolism and drew from a wide range of influences.
 
Accordingly, the change resulted in a rift between Klimt and his long-time partner Matsch.

In 1893, the Artistic Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Education approached Matsch for a commission to decorate the ceiling of the newly built Great Hall of the University of Vienna; eventually, Klimt did join the project and this collaboration would be the last between the two men.
 
Klimt produced thirty.-nine ceiling paintings for the Great Hall, including Philosophy (1899-1907), Medicine (1900-07) and Jurisprudence (1897-1908). All of these pieces employed a highly decorative symbolism, marking significant turn in Klimt’s attitude toward painting and art in general.
 
All three paintings were destroyed in 1945 by retreating German forces. Much controversy arose over Klimt’s University paintings, due in part to the nudity of some of the figures in Medicine, and in part to accusations that his use of symbolism was vague.

Gesamtkunstwerk

While some of Klimt’s contemporaries were strongly opposed to decoration, he believed in the equality of fine and decorative arts. Some of his work shows his great ambition to create ‘’total work of art’’, Gesamtkunstwerk, a union of the visual arts that might be created through ornament.

In 1897, he renounced his membership of the Kunstlerhaus, Vienna’s leading association of artists and these circumstances encouraged him to help found The Union of Austrian Artists, widely known as Vienna Secession, along with the group of like-minded artists Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffman and Joseph Maria Olbrich. Although primarily rejecting classical, academic art, the group did not focus on any particular style, instead focusing its efforts on supporting young, nontraditional artists, bringing international art to Vienna.
 
Klimt was nominated their first president, and he also served as a member of the editorial staff for its periodical Sacred Spring.

The initial exhibition of Secession received wide acclaim from the public, and they elicited surprisingly little controversy, given that the Viennese had little to no exposure to modern art. Among its featured works was Klimt’s painting of the group’s symbol, the Greek goddess Pallas Athena; in time it would come to be seen as the first in the series of works from Klimt’s best known and most successful period.

Symbolism

In 1902, The Secessionists held their 14th Vienna Exhibition, a celebration of the composer Ludwig von Beethoven. For this exhibition, Klimt painted his famous Beethoven Frieze (1902), a massive work which was seen as a complex, lyrical, and highly ornate allegory of the artist as God, but paradoxically, made no reference to any of Beethoven’s compositions.
 
The artist’s symbolism is entirely invented and evidently quite personal. Klimt source of imagery remains a mystery, but viewed as a whole, the frieze takes on the qualities of a musical analogy, with each section of the frieze suggesting a symphonic movement.
 
The original catalogue for the 1902 Secession exhibition indicated that the frieze follows the story of a hero who begins happy, must fight dark forces in order to secure his happiness, and in the end experiences salvation.

Some of the most celebrated of Klimt’s paintings were produced during his time with Secession, which lasted until 1908 (Judith I ,1901, Adele Bloch-Bauer I ,1907, Field of Poppies ,1907., The Kiss, 1907-08 ), all of which comprised the artist’s so-called ‘’Golden Phase’’ By this time, Klimt’s personal style, which combined elements of both pre-modern and modern eras, had fully matured.
 
His use of gold and silver leaf recalled Byzantine mosaics; his application of repeated coils and whorls suggested both abstraction and Mycenaean ornamentation, while his portraits of women (Expectation, 1905-09) often combined a modern sensuality with the motifs of Oriental art and Japanese ‘’pillar prints’’.

While some critics and art historians contend Klimt’s work should not be included in the canon of modern art, his oeuvre, especially paintings postdating 1900, remains striking for its visual combinations of the old and modern, the abstract and the real.

Adele

Adele Bloch- Bauer I (1907), Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a Viennese banker and Klimt’s lover, was one of the many women Klimt painted from life. This piece, the first of the two portraits, is considered to be Klimt’s finest work.
 
The sitter is adorned with ancient artifacts and precious materials, suggesting her power and wealth. But also, her stare and her grasping hands suggest that she is fragile. Despite these features, Klimt was largely unconcerned at this time with depicting his sitter’s character, and even less so with providing context and location, omissions that were common in all of Klimt’s earlier portraits. Klimt gives over most every space on the canvas to ornament, and leaves only the woman’s hands and upper body to describe her appearance.
 
Klimt biographer Frank Whitford has described the picture as ‘’ the most elaborate example of the tyranny of the decorative’’ in the artist’s work. Like many other artists around this period who were experimenting with abstraction, Klimt was faced with the possibility of crossing into pure form, and leaving depicted objects behind.
 
This picture marked an important turning point in Kimt’s work, and he chose to turn back from this extreme, which is indicated by his second portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1912), in which her body stands out much more substantially against the background.

klimt portrait of adele bloch bauer i

The Kiss

The Kiss (1907-08) is considered the masterpiece of the artist’s ‘’Golden Period’’ probably the most popular and renowned celebration of sexual love; the woman is being absorbed in by the man, while both figures are engulfed by the body of gold in which they lie.
 
The background suggests a night sky; bodies teeter at the edge of a flowery meadow, as if they are in some kind of danger of cascading into the darkness. Representational forms only barely emerge from a highly ornate but ultimately abstract form, in this case the golden shroud, beautifully juxtaposed against the green and brown.
 
The decoration is particularly elaborate, Klimt used it for symbolic purposes; circular forms evoke the feminine, while rectangular forms evoke masculinity.

 

 

Late Period Klimt

In the last decade of his life, Klimt divided much of his time between his studio and garden in Heitzing, and the country home of the Flöge family, where he and Emilie Flöge, his brother’s widow’s sister, spent many days together.
 
His most enduring relationship was with Emilie Fl
öge. The full nature of their friendship is unknown, they remained in each other’s company for the remainder of his life.

During this period Klimt produced many of his stunning, yet largely under-appreciated plein air landscape paintings, such as The Park (1909-1910), visually demanding work, and possibly one of Klimt’s finest plein air paintings. Pointillism clearly influenced this painting, even though, unlike Seurat, Klimt never expressed an interest in utilizing optics in his work.
 
Nine-tenths of this piece is a solid mass of foliage, thus if not for the tree trunks and strips of grass at the bottom, this composition would be completely abstract. The naturalistic elements of this piece are offset by Klimt’s decorative mosaic of green, blue and yellow dots, which are rendered representational only with the aid of the piece’s lower section.

While Klimt did not alter his subject matter during his late period, his style did underego significant change; doing away with the use of silver and gold leaf and ornamentation in general, he began using subtle mixtures of color such as coral, salmon, yellow and lilac.
 
He also produced a staggering number of drawings and studies during this period, majority of which were female nudes, some especially erotic that to this day they are seldom exhibited. But, many of Klimt’s later portraits of women have been praised for the artist’s greater attention to character and a supposed new concern for likeness.
 
These features are evident in his second portrait of Adele Bloch- Bauer ( 1912), Mada Primavesi (1913), a portrait of the young, and Friends (c. 1916-17), strangely erotic features, which portrays what appears to be a lesbian couple ( one naked and other clothed), against a stylized backdrop of birds and flowers.

On January 11, 1918, Klimt suffered a stroke, which left him paralyzed on his right side. Bedridden and no longer able to paint or even sketch, Klimt lost his will to live, and on February,6th, he died from influenza.

He is buried at the Hietzing cemetery of Vienna.

Conclusion

By the time of his death, abstract painting, not to mention Dada, Futurism, Cubism and Constructivism, had all captured the imagination of Europeans across the continent. Gustav Klimt’s body of work was by then considered part of bygone era in painting which still focused on human and natural forms rather than outright renunciation, deconstruction of those very things.

Gustav Klimt never married, never painted a single self-portrait; and never claimed to be revolutionizing art in any way. He seldom left his native Austria, and on one occasion he visited Paris, but he left thoroughly unimpressed.
 
With the groundbreaking Seccession, his primary aim was to call attention to under-appreciated Viennese artists and in turn to call their attention to the much broader world of modern art beyond Austria’s borders. In that context, Klimt is responsible for helping to transform Vienna into a leading center for arts and culture at the turn of the century.
 
Paradoxically, his influence on other artists and subsequent movements was quite limited. As much in the way Klimt revered Hans Makart but eventually deviated from that style, younger Viennese artist like Oscar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele revered Klimt early on, only to mature into more quasi-abstract and expressionistic forms of painting.

 


 

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Antoni Gaudi – Famous Spanish Architects

Antoni Gaudí, a Catalan architect, has become internationally recognized as one of the most prodigious experts in architecture, as well as the one of the top exponents of modernism.

Hard To Classify

His exceptional ground-breaking genius made him the inventor of a unique and personal architectural language that defies classification. The work of Gaudí is remarkable for its range of forms, textures, polychromy and for the free, expressive way in which these elements of his art seem to be composed.
 
The complex geometries of a Gaud
í building so coincide with its architectural structure that the whole, including its surface, gives the appearance of being a natural object in complete conformity with nature’s laws.
 
Such a sense of total unity also informed the life of Gaud
í: his personal and professional lives were one, and he collected comments about the art of building are essentially aphorisms about the art of living.
 
He was totally dedicated to architecture, which for him was a totality of many arts.

Here’s a good and quick intro video to some of Gaudí’s work in Barcelona. From this, you will surely see what makes him so special and one of the most famous Spanish architects ever.


 

Boilermaker

Antoni Gaudí I Cornet was born on June, 25, 1852, in Reus, provincial Catalonia on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, according to some biographers, although other claim that he was born in Riudoms, a small village near Reus, where the Gaudí family spent their summers.
 
He came from a family of boilermakers; due to this fact, a young Gaud
í acquired a special skill for working with space and volume, as he helped his grandfather and his father in the family workshop.
 
His talent for designing spaces and transforming materials grew and prospered until it eventually metamorphosed into a veritable genius for three-dimensional creation.

Showing an early interest in architecture, in 18769/70 he moved to Barcelona, to pursue his academic career in architecture. In that time, Barcelona was Spain’s most modern city, as well as the political and intellectual centre of Catalonia.

His studies have been interrupted by intermittent activities and military service; accordingly, he did not graduate until eight years later. Gaudí was inconsistent student, but he was already showing some evidence of brilliance that opened many traces for him, allowing him to collaborate with some of his professors.

Chance Encounter

When Gaudí completed his studies at the School of Architecture in 1878, it was clear that the young architect’s ideas were not a mere repetition of things that had already been done up at that time, nor could anybody receive them with indifference.
 
Having obtained his degree, Gaud
í settled down in offices in Calle del Cal in Barcelona. From his office and with a great dedication, he embarked on his architectural legacy, a large part of which is classified as World Heritage.

Towards the middle of 1878, it was a meeting that would lead to one of the most productive friendships, patronage relationships and cooperation that the world has known the chance caused the artist to cross paths with Eusebi Güell, a man who was a driving force behind Spanish national industry with a highly developed taste for arts.
 
From that point onwards, their productive cooperation was not merely the relationship between the client and architect; it led to a rapport based on mutual admiration and shared interests, building a friendship that gave Gaud
í the opportunity to begin a rich professional career in order to develop all of his artistic aspirations.

Above and beyond his relationship with Güell, Gaudí received many commissions and proposed numerous projects; many of them were realized, but unfortunately, some never made it off paper.

Guell-Dragon

Patterns Of Nature

Antoni Gaudí found the essence and the meaning of architecture by following the very patterns of nature and always respecting its laws. He did not copy the nature, but rather traced its course through a process of cooperation, and in that context he created the most beautiful and effective work through architecture.

On emergence from the Provincial School of Architecture in Barcelona in 1878, he practiced a rather florid Victorianism (that had been evident in his school projects), but very soon he developed a manner of composing by means of unprecedented juxtapositions of geometric masses, the surfaces of which were highly animated with patterned brick or stone, gay ceramic tiles and reptilian or floral metalwork.
 
The general effect is called Moorish, or Mudéjar, as Spain’s special mixture of Christian and Muslim design. Some of his the most interesting and remarkable examples of Mudéjar style are the Casa Vicens, from1878-80, El Capricho, from 1883-85, and Güell Estate and Güell Palace of the later 1880s, all located in Barcelona, except El Capricho.

He experimented with the dynamic possibilities of historic style: the Gothic in the Episcopal Palace, Astorga, 1887-93, and the Casa de los Botines, León, 1892-1894, and the Baroque in the Casa Calvet at Barcelona, 1898-1904; after 1902, his design elude more conventional stylistic nomenclature.

As A Tree Stands

Gaudí’s buildings became essentially representation of their structure and materials, except for certain overt symbols of nature or religion. In Villa Bell Esguard, 1900-02, and the Güell Park, 1900-14, in Barcelona, and in the Colonia Güell Church, 1898-1915, he arrived in a type of structure that has come to be called equilibrated; a structure designed to stand on its own without internal bracing, external buttressing, just ‘’as a tree stands’’.
 
Among the primary elements of his system were columns and piers that tilt to transmit diagonal thrusts, and thin-shell, laminated tile vaults that exert very little thrust. Gaud
í applied this equilibrated system to two multistoried Barcelona apartment buildings: the Casa Batlló, 1904-06, a renovation incorporated new equilibrated elements, notably façade; and the Casa Milá, 1905-10, the several floors of which are structured like clusters of tile lily pads with steel-beam veins.
 
As was so often in his practice, he designed the two buildings, in their shapes and surfaces, as metaphors of the mountainous and maritime Catalonia’s character.

As an eccentric architect and as an admired, Gaudí was a significant participant in the Renaixensa, an artistic revival of the arts and crafts combined with a political revival in the form of fervent anti-Castilian ‘’Catalanism’’.
 
Both movements sought to reinvigorate the way of life in Catalonia that had long been suppressed by the Castilian-dominated and Madrid- centred government in Spain.

The main religious symbol of the Renaixensa in Barcelona was La Sagrada Família, the Church of the Holly Family, a project that was to occupy Gaudí throughout his entire career.

In the early 1883, he was commissioned to build this church, but he did not live enough to see it finished. Working on it, he was increasingly pious; after 1910, he abandoned virtually all other work and even secluded himself on its site and resided in its workshop.
 
The plans had been drawn up earlier, and construction had already begun, but Gaud
í completely changed the design, stamping it with his own distinctive style.

In his drawings and models for the Sagrada Família, Gaudí equilibrated the cathedral-Gothic style beyond recognition into a complexly symbolic forest of helicoidal piers, hyperboloid vaults ad sidewalls; a hyperbolic paraboloid roof that boggle the mind and outdo the bizarre concrete shells built throughout the world in the 1960s by engineers and architects inspired by Antoni Gaudí.

After Gaudí’s death, work continued on the Sagrada Família. In 2010, the uncompleted church was consecrated as a basilica by Pope Benedict XVI.

Farewell

The magnificence of Antoni Gaudí’s architecture coincided, as the result of a personal decision by the architect, with a progressive withdrawal by the man himself. Gaudí, who in his youth had frequented theatres, concerts and tertulias ( social gatherings), went from being a young dandy with gourmet tastes to neglecting his personal appearance, eating frugally, and distancing himself from social life, while simultaneously devoting himself even more fervently to a mystical and religious sentiment.

Gaudí died on the 10th of June, 1926, after being knocked down by a tram while making his way, as he did every evening to the Sagrada Família from the Church of Sant Felip Neri.
 
After being struck, he lost consciousness, and nobody suspected that this disheveled 74 old man who was not carrying any identity documents, was the famous architect. He was taken to the Santa Cruz Hospital, where he was later recognized by the priest of the Sagrada Fam
ília.
 
Two days later, Gaud
í was buried in that vary church, following a funeral attended by throngs of people; most of the citizens of Barcelona came out to bid a final farewell to the most universal architect that the city had ever known.

Apart from this and a similar, often uncritical, admiration for Gaudí by Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist sculptors and painters, Gaudí’s influence was quite local, represented mainly by a few devotees of his equilibrated structure.
 
He was ignored during1920s and 1930s when the International Style was dominant architectural mode. By the 1960s, he came to be revered by professionals and laymen alike for the boundless and tenacious imagination that he used to attack each design challenge with which he was presented.

 

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Concerning The Spiritual In Art With Vassily Kandinsky

yellow-red-blue by vassily kandinsky

Perhaps the greatest meditation on how art serves the soul came in 1910, when Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky published The Art of Spiritual Harmony, an exploration of the deepest and most authentic motives for making art.

Uber Das Geistige in der Kunst (Concerning the Spiritual in Art) completed in 1910

A pioneering work in the movement to free art from its traditional bonds to material reality is one of the most important documents in the history of modern art. It explains Kandinsky’s own theory of painting and crystallizes the great ideas that were influencing many other modern artists.

Kandinsky’s words were written in the period between the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the consumer society, ring with remarkable poignancy today.

Kandinsky’s ideas are presented in two parts. In the first part called “About General Aesthetics’’, issues a call for a spiritual revolution in painting that will let artists express their own inner lives in abstract, non-material terms.

Just as musicians do not depend upon the material world for their music, so artists should not have to depend upon the material world for their art. In the other part, “About Painting’’, Kandinsky discusses the psychology of colors, the language of form and color and the responsibilities of the artist.

 

Several Circles - Wassily Kandinsky
Several Circles – Wassily Kandinsky

He begins by considering art as a spiritual antidote to the values of materialism and introduces the conception of ‘’stimmung’’, an almost untranslatable concept, best explained as the essential spirit of nature. He considers that in great art, the spectator, as a viewer, or a witness, does feel a corresponding thrill in himself.

Such harmony or even contrast of emotion cannot be superficial or worthless; stimmung of a picture can purify the spectator. Such works of art at least preserve the soul of coarseness, they ‘’key it up’’ to a certain height, as a tuning-key the strings of a musical instrument.

Regarding the tendency of the general public to reduce art to technique and skill, Kandinsky argues that its true purpose is entirely different and adds to art history one of the most beautiful definitions of art:

“In each picture is a whole lifetime imprisoned, a whole lifetime of fears, doubts, hopes, and joys. Whether is this lifetime tending? What is the message of the competent artist? … To harmonize the whole is the task of art’’

the blue rider by wassily kandinsky
The Blue Rider – Wassily Kandinsky

Kandinsky admonishes, the conception of l’art pour l’art– art for art’s sake, produces a neglect of inner meanings, a lament perhaps even more sad and ominous in our age of permanent commodification of art as a thing to transact around- to own, to purchase, to display, rather than an experience to have.

The spiritual life to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement upwards and forwards. That movement is the movement of experience, it may take different forms, but it holds at bottom to the same inner thought and purpose.

As an explanation, Kandinsky offers a visual metaphor for the spiritual experience and how it relates to the conception of genius:

’The life of the spirit may be fairly represented in diagram as a large acute-angled triangle divided horizontally into unequal parts with the narrowest segment uppermost. The lower the segment the greater it is in breadth, depth, and area.

The whole triangle is moving slowly, almost invisibly forwards and upwards. Where the apex was today the second segment is tomorrow; what today can be understood only by the apex and to the rest of the triangle is an incomprehensible gibberish, forms tomorrow the true thought and feeling of the second segment.

At the apex of the top segment, only one man often stands. His joyful vision cloaks a vast sorrow. Even those who are nearest to him in sympathy do not understand him. Angrily they abuse him as charlatan or madman.

(—)In every segment of the triangle are artists. Each one of them who can see beyond the limits of his segment is a prophet to those about him, and helps the advance of the obstinate whole.

But those who are blind, or those who retard the movement of the triangle for baser reasons, are fully understood by their fellows and acclaimed for their genius. The greater the segment, so the greater the number who understand the words of the artist…’’

 

sky blue kandinsky
Sky Blue – Wassily Kandinsky

For Kandinsky, art is a kind of spiritual anchor when all other certitudes of life are unhinged by social and cultural upheaval:

“When religion, science and morality are shaken … and when the outer supports threaten to fall, man turns his gaze from externals in on to himself. Literature, music and art are the first and most sensitive spheres in which this spiritual revolution makes itself felt.

They reflect the dark picture of the present time and show the importance of what at first was only a little point of light noticed by few and for the great majority non-existent. Perhaps they even grow dark in their turn, but on the other hand, they turn away from the soulless life of the present towards those substances and ideas which give free scope to the non-material strivings of the soul.’’

But, despite this eternal spiritual element, Kandinsky recognizes that all art is inescapably a product of its time. Examining the music of Wagner, Debussy, and Schoenberg, each celebrated as a genius in his own right, he wrote that “the various arts of today learn from each other and often resemble each other… The greatest freedom of all, the freedom of an unfettered art, can never be absolute.

Every age achieves a certain measure of this freedom, but beyond the boundaries of its freedom the mightiest genius can never go. But the measure of freedom of each age must be constantly enlarged’’ and he also adds that the cross-pollination of the different arts can inform and inspire one another… “The arts are encroaching one upon another, and from a proper use of this encroachment will rise the art that is truly monumental.

Every man who steeps himself in the spiritual possibilities of his art is a valuable helper in the building of the spiritual pyramid which will some day reach to heaven.’’

 

yellow-red-blue by vassily kandinsky
Yellow-Red-Blue by Vassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was synesthetic, greatly influenced by Goethe’s theory of the emotional effect of color. He considers the powerful psychic effect of color in the cohesive spiritual experience of art: “Many colors have been described as rough or sticky, others as smooth and uniform, so that one feels inclined to stroke them (e.g., dark ultramarine, chromic oxide green, and rose madder).

Equally the distinction between warm and cold colors belongs to this connection. Some colors appear soft (rose madder), others hard (cobalt green, blue-green oxide), so that even fresh from the tube they seem to be dry.

The expression “scented colors” is frequently met with. And finally the sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would try to express bright yellow in the bass notes, or dark lake in the treble…Color is a power which directly influences the soul.

Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.’’

Considering the color and the form, and defining form as ‘’the outward expression of inner meaning”, Kandinsky examines their interplay in creating a spiritual effect: “This essential connection between color and form brings us to the question of the influences of form on color.

Form alone, even though totally abstract and geometrical, has a power of inner suggestion. A triangle (without the accessory consideration of its being acute — or obtuse — angled or equilateral) has a spiritual value of its own.

In connection with other forms, this value may be somewhat modified, but remains in quality the same. The case is similar with a circle, a square, or any conceivable geometrical figure, a subjective substance in an objective shell-The mutual influence of form and color now becomes clear.

A yellow triangle, a blue circle, a green square, or a green triangle, a yellow circle, a blue square—all these are different and have different spiritual values.’’

 

Composition-VI
Composition VI – Wassily Kandinsky

Considering the inherent aesthetic intelligence of nature, he returns to his piano metaphor: “Every object has its own life and therefore its own appeal; man is continually subject to these appeals. But the results are often dubbed either sub- or super-conscious.

Nature, that is to say the ever-changing surroundings of man, sets in vibration the strings of the piano (the soul) by manipulation of the keys (the various objects with their several appeals)’’

There is no ‘’must’’ in art, because it springs from an inner need – the psychological trifecta built up of three mystical elements:

  • Every artist, as a creator, has something in him which calls for expression( the element of personality)
  • Every artist, as child of his age, is impelled to express the spirit of his age( the element of style), dictated by the period and nationality to which the artist belongs
  • Every artist, as a servant of art has to help the cause of art( the element of pure artistry); it is constant in all ages and among all nationality
Improvisation 28 (Second Version)
Improvisation 28 (Second Version) – Vassily Kandinsky

Sharing in Schopenhauer’s skepticism about style, Kandinsky predicts that only the third element “which knows neither period nor nationality’’, accounts for the timeless in art:

“In the past and even today much talk is heard of “personality” in art. Talk of the coming “style” becomes more frequent daily. But for all their importance today, these questions will have disappeared after a few hundred or thousand years.

Only the third element ( pure artistry) will remain forever. An Egyptian carving speaks to us today more subtly than it did to its chronological contemporaries; for they judged it with the hampering knowledge of period and personality.

But we can judge purely as an expression of the eternal artistry.

Similarly — the greater the part played in a modern work of art by the two elements of style and personality, the better will it be appreciated by people today; but a modern work of art which is full of the third element, will fail to reach the contemporary soul.

For many centuries have to pass away before the third element can be received with understanding. But the artist in whose work this third element predominates is the really great artist.’’

Furthermore, Kandinsky points out, the true artist gives credence only to that inner need, and not to the expectation and conventions of the time. “The artist must be blind to distinctions between “recognized” or “unrecognized” conventions of form, deaf to the transitory teaching and demands of his particular age.

He must watch only the trend of the inner need, and hearken to its words alone. Then he will with safety employ means both sanctioned and forbidden by his contemporaries.’’

 

decisive pink kandinsky
Decisive Pink – Wassily Kandinsky

This is the reason why theory invariably fails to capture the essential impulse in art, and he offers a beautiful disclaimer of his own theoretical treatise: “It is impossible to theorize about this ideal of art.

In real art theory does not precede practice, but follows her. Everything is, at first, a matter of feeling. Any theoretical scheme will be lacking in the essential of creation — the inner desire for expression — which cannot be determined.

Neither the quality of the inner need, nor its subjective form, can be measured nor weighed.’’

He also considers the paradox of what we refer to us as ‘’beauty’’, which is more of a theoretical agreement based on convention, rather than a true spiritual response ‘’ “Outer need” … never goes beyond conventional limits, nor produces other than conventional beauty.

The “inner need” knows no such limits, and often produces results conventionally considered “ugly.” But “ugly” itself is a conventional term, and only means “spiritually unsympathetic,” being applied to some expression of an inner need, either outgrown or not yet attained.

But everything which adequately expresses the inner need is beautiful…which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul’’.

 

movement 1 wassily kandinsky
Movement 1 – Wassily Kandinsky

Reflecting on the birthplace of art, Kandinsky return to the conception of a creative freedom: “The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret way. From him it gains life and being.

Nor is its existence casual and inconsequent, but it has a definite and purposeful strength, alike in its material and spiritual life. It exists and has power to create spiritual atmosphere; and from this inner standpoint one judges whether it is a good work of art or a bad one.

If its “form” is bad it means that the form is too feeble in meaning to call forth corresponding vibrations of the soul… The artist is not only justified in using, but it is his duty to use only those forms which fulfill his own need… Such spiritual freedom is as necessary in art as it is in life.’’

Eventually, he brings everything full-circle to the metaphor of the spiritual triangle, reexamining the essence of art and the core responsibility of the artist:

‘’Art is not vague production, transitory and isolated, but a power which must be directed to the improvement and refinement of the human soul …If art refrains from doing this work, a chasm remains unbridged, for no other power can take the place of art in this activity.

And at times when the human soul is gaining greater strength, art will also grow in power, for the two are inextricably connected and complementary one to the other. Conversely, at those times when the soul tends to be choked by material disbelief, art becomes purposeless and talk is heard that art exists for art’s sake alone…

 

braunlich
Braunlich – Wassily Kandinksy

It is very important for the artist to gauge his position aright, to realize that he has a duty to his art and to himself, that he is not king of the castle but rather a servant of a nobler purpose.

He must search deeply into his own soul, develop and tend it, so that his art has something to clothe, and does not remain a glove without a hand. The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning.

(…) The artist is not born to a life of pleasure. He must not live idle; he has a hard work to perform, and one which often proves a cross to be borne. He must realize that his every deed, feeling, and thought are raw but sure material from which his work is to arise, that he is free in art but not in life’’.

More On Kandinsky:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edVdgH-pgZ8 

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We The Degenerates – The Work of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

ernst_kirchner

“A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness, in fact he creates new appearances of things.” Kirchner wrote this, and it illustrates his interest in the appearance, and in creating new appearances.

The new appearances are a defining trait of Kirchner’s work, but it is also shaped by the history of the period. Born in Bavaria, Kirchner thrived in Germany before World War I, but the growing tensions in Nazi Germany in the 1930s eventually led to his suicide.

ernst-ludwig-kirchner-oskar-schlemmer

He was a founder of Die Brucke, or the Bridge, a key artistic movement or group that led to the Expressionist movement. Both a painter and a printmaker, Kirchner was interested in the works of many historical German artists, including Albrecht Durer and Lucas Cranach.

Die Brucke revitalized the tradition of woodcut printing, as part of their interest in German history and art history. The manifesto of Die Brucke stated, Everyone who reproduces, directly and without illusion, whatever he senses the urge to create, belongs to us”.

kirchner-poster-1910

Kirchner’s Berlin studio was the center of Die Brucke. Models, part of their social circle, posed for the painters, and the overall atmosphere was free and open. Die Brucke thrived from 1905 until 1913, when the lives of the artists were shaped and changed by the coming of World War I.

Kirchner volunteered to serve, but was soon discharged due to mental illness. He was often in and out of care facilities thereafter, both for his mental health and addiction treatment, but continued to work throughout.

He was, prior to the dominance of the Nazi party, financially successful and well-respected by the art community. His work appeared in the 1913 Armory Show in New York City, and was collected by major U.S.

museums as early as 1921.

ernst_ludwig_kirchner_selbstbildnis_als_kranker_1918

Admitted to the Prussian Academy of the Arts in 1931, his success was soon to end. In the new climate of Nazi Germany, he could not sell his work, and he left the Prussian Academy in 1933.

He wrote that he was tired and sad, but that surely rumors of the torture of the Jews were untrue; he was especially bothered that his work, and that of Die Brucke, which had celebrated German tradition had been condemned as degenerate.

Degenerate Art

The Nazis included 25 of Kirchner’s works in the 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibit, and hundreds of his works were taken from museums and galleries. The Degenerate Art Exhibition was, according to the Nazis, designed to show works that “insult German feeling, or destroy or confuse natural form or simply reveal an absence of adequate manual and artistic skill”.

All of these works were from Weimar Germany, or Germany between 1919 and 1933.

kirschner

By the 1930s, Kirchner was living in Basel, Switzerland, but was increasingly worried about the actions of the German state. He was certainly deeply emotionally impacted by the Degenerate Art Exhibition and other actions.

Following the Anschluss or annexation of Austria in 1938, Kirchner shot and killed himself. He feared a German invasion of Switzerland. He may, also, have been deeply bothered by his own experiences in World War I, and worried about the potential of another, oncoming German war.

Kirchner relies upon bold areas of flat, often unmixed color applied quite boldly. The color choices and combinations are quite unconventional. Deep shades of red and blue are frequently paired with an acidic green tone, even in human figures.

His work was a reaction against Impressionism, but was influenced by Fauvism, and artists like Henri Matisse. While his work was bold, but fully pictorial early on, it became progressively more abstract over time.

ernst-ludwig-kirchner-the-living-room-1920-hamburger-kunsthalle-2

Throughout his career, Kirchner’s primary subject was the human form. He painted people, whether he was painting a street scene or an interior. His figures draw the viewer into the composition, but they’re not traditional figures.

These people often seem quite conflicted, driven by an array of modern forces that they themselves do not understand. In some cases, multiple figures are contrasted, providing a clear commentary on German society in the early 20th century. Businessmen may walk with prostitutes on the streets.

Other works are more traditional portraits, in Kirchner’s style, or images of his friends and colleagues. Kirchner also painted a number of self-portraits, frequently reflecting his health and personal experiences. These are the people of both pre-World War I Germany and the Germany of the Weimar Republic.

kirchner-art

Kirchner’s work provides a window into the thriving art scene of pre-World War I Germany, as well as the experiences of artists during and after World War I. Like so many other artists, Kirchner suffered deeply as the result of the Nazi party, accused of being a degenerate.

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What Destiny Holds For Painter Ferdinand Hodler

ferdinand_hodler_-_berthe_jacques

Ferdinand Hodler, one of the leading figures in modern European paintings, developed outside the mainstream of the so-called avant-garde, and his life and work bridged the gap between the 19th and 20th centuries. At the end of the XIX century, he was the one of the leading Symbolist painters.
 
Here is a self-portrait of the artist.

ferdinand_hodler_self_portrait

Destiny

Born into a very modest craftsman’s family in Berne, 1853, and losing not only his parents but also his siblings very early (they were killed by tuberculosis), he fought hard in life. The eldest of six children, Hodler was then orphaned at the age of fourteen, but he was also very ambitious and determined to become an artist.
 
If you know anything about art, you might know that becoming an artist takes a certain special kind of determination, because unlike other trades, visual artists, in the context of history, are almost certainly doomed to poverty and mental illness – and that’s if they’re successful!

Moving to Geneva, then the main artistic center in Switzerland, Hodler was noticed by Barthelémy Mann, a student of Ingres, and teacher at the Geneva School of drawing. He studied with him between 1872 and 1877.
 
Mann completed Hodler’s visual and cultural education. He taught him to respect drawing and form and introduced him to French painting.

Here is Ferdinand Hodler’s Thunersee mit Stockhornkette

ferdinand-hodler-thunersee-mit-stockhornkette

Hodler’s early paintings were marked by harsh, powerful realism which resembled Courbet; it disconcerted the critics of Geneva who were divided into two opposing sites- one censured his indulgence of ugliness, other praise the originality of his artwork.

In the mid 1880s, Hodler met poets, critics and journalists, the admirers of Wagner, Mallarme and Verlaine, who formed the first Symbolist circle in Geneva, in which Hodler was closely involved. His art developed towards a style of realism coupled with idealism and symbolism.

view-into-infinity

His portraits of the artisans at work and of the destitute were the starting point for a wider reflection on man’s destiny. A Glimpse into Eternity – an old man is making a child’s coffin; this rigorous composition and the powerful light was the significant development.
 
Recreating the details of the carpenter’s work very carefully, Hodler links the scene to a superior order through the old man’s attitude of prayer. Here is the work itself, albeit small.

glimpse-into-eternity

In a gradual way, divested of any reference to everyday life or specific social environment, the theme develops towards a radical portrayal of our inexorable march towards death. In this period at the end of the 1880s and the beginning of the 1990s, death had become an obsession for Hodler who, since his childhood, has been faced with the loss of his family.

The Night

It was triumphed in (1889/1890) The Night, a capital large format of strong expression and dramatic tension, when the author faced the phantom of death. It is a manifesto of Hodlerian Symbolism. The realism of the nudes and the poses of these couples in The Night cause a scandal in Geneva in February 1891.
 
The painting was not accepted for the Beaux-Arts exhibition in Geneva.

ferdinand_hodler_the night

In The Night, the painter portrays himself as having been rudely awakened by the figure of death. Around him are entwined men and women asleep; with self-portraits slipped in along with the portraits of the two women with whom Hodler shared his life: Augustine Dupain, his companion since the early days and the mother of his son, and Bertha Stuckie, his wife from a tempestuous and brief marriage.

The artist presented a period of his life in an autobiographical picture at the scale of a history painting, just as Courbet did in The Studio. The meaning of the work is universal for it is symbolic: it doesn’t represent any particular moment, but evokes the essence of death and night.
 
In The Night, Hodler combines a heightened realism and a very strict decorative order to an extent which had never been equaled, and which became the trademark of Hodlerian Symbolism. The sequencing of the figures are according to Hodler’s own principle of symmetry, as well as the search for frontality, is one of the most stunning expressions of a parallelism- as the repetition of similar forms, a principle defined by Hodler.
 
Parallelism is more than a principle of formal composition, it is a moral and philosophical idea, relying on the premise that nature has an order, based on repetition, and that in the end all men resemble each other.

This piece overshadows the compositions of The Disappointed, Tired of Living and Eurhythmy, with the images of old men descending from the stage of life. There are, however, more sophisticated pieces, such as The Chosen One and Path of the Chosen Souls.

Here, below, is The Chosen One by Ferdinand Hodler

the-chosen-one-ferdinand-hodler

In the meantime, Hodler abandoned the realism of the 1880s in favor of a realism of expression and color. He was inventing a specific and original form of Symbolism; drawing on the men’s lost harmony with nature.
 
It was a celebration of vital energy: a woman became the spiritual heroine and a child symbolized the innocence and the force of life; the emphatic gestures were inspired by modern dance and experimental ways of expressing emotion. These compositions, harmonizing with each other in the spirit of great Symbolist themes, brought him success in Europe, especially in the newly formed Secessions in Vienna, and Jugendstil in Berlin.

Take a look at Ferdinand Hodler’s Aufstieg I

ferdinand-hodler-aufstieg-i

Quarrel Of The Frescoes

As early as in 1880s, and from 1900 onward, Hodler was regarded as one of the great decorators and history painters. He was elaborating topics from the history of Switzerland and Germany. His first two works in Switzerland in this field were the subject of a great controversy.
 
The first was the decoration in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, for the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva, 1896, and the second was for a painting of The Retreat at Marignano for the Swiss National Museum in Zurich.

The commission resulted in what would become known in Switzerland as the ‘’quarrel of the Frescoes’’ and continued for almost two years (1898-1900). Hodler was reproached for not keeping closer to the historical and for not expressing the heroism normally extolled in more descriptive and narrative history paintings.

The Retreat at Marignano (below)

hodler_-_sterbender_krieger_-_1897-98

Nonetheless, he had to wait more than ten years for his mural on the opposite wall to The Retreat at Marignano to be confirmed. It was The Battle of Morat, and it was the last artist’s historical panel on which he worked on from the summer of 1915 in France, then left unfinished in 1917.
 
However, this episode was the end of Hodler’s radical attempt at simplifying the genre. He regenerated it profoundly by his own choice of bright colors, applied without depth, and by the power of his expression.

Of his excellent historical compositions The Battle of Fraubrunnen, Wilhelm Tell, The Battle of Näfels: only The Retreat at Marignano was chosen as a final work ( Schweizerisches Landesmuseum in Zürich). Hodler became a significant mural painter at the turn of a century: he later produced Iena for the Iena University (1909) and Unanimity for the Hannover Town Hall (1912/13).

Wilhelm Tell by Ferdinand Hodler (below):

wilhelm-tell-ferdinand-holder-die-liebe

Monumentalism

Hodler is considered to be the greatest representative of monumentalism, defined by German historiography as one of the important trends of Stilkunst um 1900, art of style around 1900. At the same time, he successfully accepted the nervous, elegant and refined lines of Jugendstil (Dream, Poetry).
 
In addition, he was considered a herald of German expressionism.

His fame in Europe was contributed to the most by the XIX exhibition of Viennese secession in 1904, where he had a separate hall. At the time, he was admired by the best: Klimt, Hoffman, Liebermann Jr.
 
Kokoschka, Kandinsky interpreted musical features of painting by his work.

Young Man Admired by Women (below):

youth-admired-by-women

Famous and rich, Hodler turn to worldly joys, as testified by his monumental allegoric compositions (Days, Emotions, the Young Man Admired by Women, Love, etc), which emphasized his sense of beauty and sacredness of life.
 
They are full of young women placed before shallow floral background – in the apse or in the frieze; the composition rests on a firm architectural and rhythmic analysis of surface, with a rich linear play on top of it.

 

Hard To Resist

This is the time when the beautiful and young Jean-Charles entered Hodler’s life. In 1901-1916, she was to be his favorite model: she posed not only for all the compositions listed, but also for the Swiss fifty franc note- her face did appear on it, for a sequence of individual portraits.
 
This is visible in her collection which covers over four decades (1873-1914) and gives a considerable insight into the artist’s opus, especially the intimate part of it.

jeanne-charles

While posing for Hodler, Jeanne married the musician A Cerani (1905) and became a widow (1914), which never disturbed her relationship with the painter, a polygamist. He was never reluctant to maintain relationships with several women while married to Berthe Jacques, with whom he spent 20 years, until he died, and to whom he referred as ‘’his elegant half’’.
 
Thus, for instance, in 1910/11, he was with Jeanne and the Italian Giulia Leonardi, the Parisienne Valentine Godé-Darel, who was, in a way, the woman of his life, and who later became the mother of his daughter Paulette.
 
The most important women in Hodler’s life have lived in his artworks- the oldest commoner Augustine Dupin, the mother of his son Hector, the ones listed, and Gertrud Müler, a rich collector and a dear friend.

Hodler was not just an irresistible man, but also- more importantly – he was a man of strong character and integrity, a fearless fighter for justice, equality, unity, which was, from 1881 onwards, reflected in his doctrine of parallelism based on rhythmic repetition of similar shapes in symmetry, with an aesthetic, social and metaphysical dimension.
 
It is therefore not surprising that Switzerland recognized the idea of its national identity in his work: independence, love for freedom, democracy persistence, etc.

spring-ferdinand-holder-1901

When the Germans bombed The Reims cathedral at the beginning of World War I, Hodler signed a protest of artists and intellectuals of Geneva (where he lived from 1872 until his death in 1918), against this ‘’barbaric act’’.
 
In Germany, a campaign was launched immediately against the artist praised until not long before that: They threw his paintings out of public places; they attacked him, everywhere, at occasion. His friends advised him to remove his signature from the ‘’ Geneva protest’’: he refused.

These unfortunate events coincided with the slow and painful death of his dearest Valentine to cancer. He truthfully expressed his feelings in almost two hundred paintings and drawings, considered by some to be ‘’the most dramatic series on the entire history of art’’. With an almost unbearable documentary brutality, he records the inexorable progress of her illness and suffering.
 
This exceptional series, was not only an escape from pain and grief, but it was part of his much wider reflection on death which, with its ghostly appearance in The Night, and as the common destiny for all in Eurhythmy and Tired of Life became with Valentine, the great stylizer, exposing the truth about the body and the face.

the-dying-valentine-gode-darel

The discovery of this series, Ein Maler von Liebe und Tot / A Painter before Love and Death,1976/1977, as well as the discovery of incredible expression and versatility of his portraits- Selbstbildnisse als Selbstbiographie / Self-portraits and Autobiography, Bern, 1979, for both again we owe gratitude to Jura Brüschweiler.
 
A historiographer of such format and such dedication is Hodler’s posthumous reward for his life.

ferdinand-hodler-selbstbildnisse-als-selbstbiographie-hodler-publikation-german-edition

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After Valentine had died, Hodler found peace in painting large horizontal of death flattening all the differences: it was the body of the beloved woman, and landscape including Earth and Heaven – the entire Universe.
 
For Hodler, landscape painting had a philosophical dimension. He thought that the painter had to reveal the laws of nature and of the world through a patient structured study of location. This order relies on parallelism, repetition and symmetry.
 
According to this artist landscape painting should ‘’show us nature made greater and simpler, pared of all insignificant details’’. The Hodlerian landscape is known for the elimination of all that is irregular and incidental and characterized by the suppression of aerial and chromatic perspective.

view-to-infinity

During the remaining three years of his life, Hodler painted his master-pieces, and he reached his peak in the last ten landscapes, made just before he died, with Mont Blanc at dusk and dawn.
 
These burning, cosmic landscapes lead Dieter Honisch to a daring conclusion that Hodler heralded the radicalism of Rhotko and Newmann: an image becomes “pure contemplation’’.

Beauty and celebration of light, which chased away the forces of darkness, goes beyond any individual destiny.

Let us recall the ancient teaching that only separate existence means suffering, and the return to the source, “the great unity’’ liberates us from the pain of confinement in the individual, the interim, and the transient.
 
Thus the drop returns to the Ocean, in order to free itself from its tiny I, and to immerse into the great Self.

 

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The Portraits Of Arcimboldo – Strange Amusements Of The Hapsburg Court

giuseppe-arcimboldo-the-librarian-c-1570

When you think of the art of the late 16th and 17th centuries, you likely picture the early stages of Italian Baroque, or maybe the later years of Mannerism—it’s stately, emotional, and dramatic, but mostly tasteful and even traditional.

Shapes and colors are sometimes exaggerated, but it’s not anything you’d expect to inspire the likes of Salvador Dali or Marcel Duchamp.

It reflects the art of the Counter-Reformation, or the movement to strengthen Catholicism through much of Europe. When you move a bit further east, to the capital of Bohemia, the city of Prague, you’ll find something very different.

The court of the Hapsburg emperors, including Rudolf II, produced some of the most playful, whimsical and unusual art found in nearly any period before the 20th century.

emperor rudolf II

Here’s a “quick” 30-minute video about Rudolf II and the times in which he lived, called “”The Apparition Of Knowledge In The Court Of Rudolph II”, to give you some context on the artistic atmosphere for the time, place, and persons in question in this article (namely, Guiseppe Arcimboldo).

Don’t have 30 minutes? Skip ahead, this isn’t school… its the internet!

Ah, yes, Rudolf II created a remarkable court, bringing in writers, poets, humanists, astronomers, and artists. He was especially fond of foreign artists, and collected a wide range of work. He even created an entire cabinet of curiosities, his Kunstkammer.

Rudolf II collected a range of art, with an interest in the unusual, bizarre and erotic. Perhaps some of the most curious works enjoyed by Rudolf II were those of Italian artists Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

Arcimboldo painted portraits, but these were not ordinary portraits at all.

guisepe-arcimboldo-basket-of-fruit-and-the-four

Arcimboldo painted portraits by composing figures of various objects, like fruit, vegetables, books and fish. From a distance, the portraits look quite ordinary. Up close, they’re far from ordinary. The objects weren’t at all random; in fact, they were carefully chosen and frequently quite meaningful.

His composite portraits began with an allegorical series of paintings of the four seasons in 1563. The Four Seasons series sought to display the imperial Habsburg court and its rulers as symbols of power and nature.

They ruled, according to Arcimboldo, because it was part of the natural order for them to rule.

Here is Arcimboldo’s “The Four Seasons”…pretty radical for the 1500’s, no?

arcimboldos-4-seasons

In 1590, Arcimboldo painted Rudolf II himself, crafting the emperor’s image out of gourds, peapods and other vegetables. Rudolf embraced Arcimboldo’s unusual style, and apparently quite liked the strange portrait. We’ve shown it above the previous image – you can’t miss it.

The composite portraits are certainly playful—and to the modern viewer, maybe even a little bit surreal.

They’re also a clear reflection of the growing interest in science and botany in the period. Arcimboldo’s portraits show a careful observation of the natural world. They incorporated a range of exotic produce, including things like corn and eggplant.

Many of these crops, native to areas other than Europe, would have been quite unusual in the late 16th century.

arcimboldo-the-four-seasons-in-one-head

Was Arcimboldo brilliant or mad? Did he embrace Rudolf’s tolerant court or mock it? The answers to these questions are still unclear. We do know that the Hapsburg courts, first under Rudolf’s father Maximillian and later under Rudolf II, liked Arcimboldo’s work.

He not only painted their portraits, but also designed costumes for royal pageants and presentations, frequently in the same style.

Arcimboldo’s works were largely lost during the Thirty Years’ War, and only rediscovered in the early 20th century. Twentieth-century theorist Roland Barthes wrote, of Arcimboldo, “Before one of Arcimboldo’s Composed Heads, I am led to not only say of it: I read, guess, discover, and understand, but also: I like, I don’t like.

Uneasiness, fear, laughter, desire all enter the game.” This quote reflects the perceptions of not only Barthes, but many of his contemporaries who took an interest in Arcimboldo’s work, including Rene Magritte, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.

 

Arcimboldo’s Reversibles

The painting below shows one of Arcimboldo’s famous reversibles, where, if you turn it upside down, you see that the painting began as a still life including a bowl of curiously arranged vegetables. But here, we see that it is meant to suggest the appearance of a person.

Very interesting, especially considering that still life paintings weren’t yet an established painting style.

guiseppe-arcimboldo-painter-vegetable-head

Lost Arcimboldo works continue to come to light, and to inspire the art of today.

Recently, sculptor and filmmaker Philip Haas produced a series of large-scale fiberglass sculptures inspired by Arcimboldo’s 1563 series The Four Seasons. The portraits are in profile, but the sculptures offer a three-dimensional take on Arcimboldo’s images.

Each portrait is portrayed as its own sculpture, measuring some 15-feet tall. The imagery present in each represents both the season and Arcimboldo’s work. Oh look, there’s one now!

arcimboldo-sculpture-philip-hass

We sometimes think of the interest in the strange, the bizarre or the unusual as a modern phenomenon, born in the days of Dada and Surrealism; however, as Arcimboldo shows, those same interests appeared long before the modern era.

For Arcimboldo, as for many artists of the modern world, innovations and discovered served as the inspiration for art and for creation, whether those discoveries are the new materials and technology of today, or the new fruits and vegetables of yesterday.

Here is a documentary talking about Guiseppe Arcimboldo and his unique style.