The first time I viewed a painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, I was certain that the date on the painting was incorrect. Surely, this was not a painter that lived in the 1500’s.
And yet, Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s birth was recorded in Milan in the year 1527, the son of a painter. In 1549, he worked as his father’s assistant at Milan Cathedral and a few years later, designed tapestry for Como Cathedral. It seems that his talents became known beyond Milan, for in 1562 he moved to Prague, becoming the Court painter to Ferdinand I.
Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s paintings remind me of the Surrealists who appeared in the aftermath of World War I. His compositions of painted flowers, vegetables and other bazaar objects thrilled the Hapsburg Court. His paintings continue to excite our century.
Very little of Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s signed work survives, nor did he leave any writings. That he was highly educated can be seen in his work. He was a true Renaissance man who had talents that spanned arts, sciences, engineering and philosophy.
“Portrait of a Librarian” is thought to be a portrait of Wolfgang Lazius, a humanist and historian who served Holy Roman Emperors and The House of Habsburg.
Some think that the painting is a celebration of scholarship, while others believe that it is a parody of book collectors more interested in collecting books than reading them.
I believe the painting is about books, created by an artist who loved the knowledge written on the pages of books.