La pintura retórica de Giuseppe Arcimboldo

“It is as if Arcimboldo, in the way of a baroque poet, explodes the “curiosities” of the language, plays with the synonymy and the homonymy. His work has an undertone of the language, his imagination is completely poetic; he does not create signs, he combines them, exchanges them, he diverts them (such as the Vortumnus)” Roland Barthes

Guiseppe Arcimboldo was an Italian painter from the XVI century known by his human portrays based on trivial and natural elements. His artistic proposal was based on the game generated by the analogies that transform into metaphors; a helmet that shows a head or a plate that acts as a bowl for vegetables are some examples of his art. The fragility of Arcimboldo is that this perception is not showed as simultaneous, but as it rotates between both poles, as being reversible.

Vegetables in a Bowl (The Gardener), The Cook, The Librarian, are some of the titles of his pieces. All of them are encompassed inside of the common sense, in phrases taken from the daily life. To say that Arcimboldo’s art is extravagant is not the best definition for his poetics.  

The pieces narrate a splendid story that swings in a dual articulation. They make us remember the linguistic theory of the signified and signifier, between morphemes and phonemes. On one side, they can discompose into describable forms through words with a specific meaning, as if it was a sum of morphemes; a “banana” or “bunch” of grapes, a “bowl”, etc. On the other side, these forms as isolated elements, as phonemes or distinctive sounds of a word, mean nothing.

The heads which make reference to the four seasons move between fertility and decomposition. They are made of organic materials, but something in their demeanor, in their dull coloring brings them to the gloomy memory of the mortality that approaches. They are a swarm of living substances grouped in commotion. As the French semiologist Roland Barthes explains “the work of Acrimbolso evokes all the larval life, the clutter of vegetable beings, worms, fetuses, bowels, which are in the limit of life, barely born and already putrescible”.

In a game that can turn to be repulsive and create an awkward discomfort. The painted forms stand out for their hypertrophied features, hideous, which spread as tumors through a face whipped by sickness and infestation.

This fact, that Arcimboldo’s art has a meaning in two different levels, it transgresses the potentiality of the pictorial image; what the observer sees goes beyond a simple analogy. From start the observer sees the detail of each object reflected on the paint; a bunch of grouped fruits. The total sense of the composition is completely ignored. By moving away from the painting, the message takes new dimensions, it is showed as a whole. The result is a piece full of literary resources, full of metaphors, metonymies, and allegories.

It is an art that hides and reveals at the same time, that is simultaneously clear an confusing, but that never falls into the misleading masness.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Cuatro estaciones en una cabeza
Giuseppe Arcimboldo – The Four Seasons in One Head



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