Students will explore Arcimboldo’s Summer by touching and examining the real fruits and vegetables that he included in his painting. As a class, students will then arrange the food into a profile sculpture.
Students will be able to:
- name at least three foods shown by the teacher;
- name at least three foods used in Summer;
- describe how different foods look and feel compared to each other; and
- work as a class on a creative project.
- Warm-up: Lay the fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc., in front of you on a table. One-by-one, hold up the fruits and vegetables. Help the children name and describe each piece. Allow them to touch and feel each one as well.
- Show students Arcimboldo’s painting. Ask them, what is this a painting of? What types of objects are used to make up this person’s face? Call on volunteers to help you find each vegetable, fruit, etc., on his face. For older children, you can ask why the artist might have selected that item for each part of the painting.
- Using the fruits and vegetables you brought to class, have the children help you make a profile sculpture by arranging the foods in the shape of a face on a sand table. The packing peanuts or sand should help you get the foods level when placed in the chosen position. Children can share where they think each item should go and perhaps even help you place the different items.
- Compare your portrait to Arcimboldo’s. Where did you use different foods for the face, chest, and shoulders? Where did you use the same foods? Take a picture of your portrait to display in the classroom.
- As many different foods depicted in Summer as possible (green grapes, plums, mulberries, melon, hazelnuts, assorted pears, cherries, peaches, corn, garlic bulbs, onions, pea pods, eggplant, various squashes, cucumber, artichokes, and wheat)
- Packing peanuts or sand at least three inches deep in a pan or sand/water table
- About the Art section on Summer
- One color copy of the painting for every four children, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Italian, 1527-1593
Giuseppe Arcimboldo [jew-SEP-pay arch-im-BOLD-OH] was born to a distinguished family in Milan, Italy, and began working as an artist at the Milan Cathedral, creating stained glass, fabrics, and paintings. His father, a painter, probably provided his early training. As the official artist and Master of Festivals for three successive German Emperors, Arcimboldo designed costumes, stage settings, chariots, and other diversions for courtly events and ceremonies. He was also in charge of making acquisitions for the royal cabinet of curiosities, which included art, antiques, curios, oddities of nature, and exotic animals and birds. He engineered creative water works, and even dreamed up a “color-piano” that was played by court musicians. He was perfect for the job and was richly rewarded for his inventiveness.
Arcimboldo was best known for his fantastical “composite head” paintings. These were portraits composed of objects such as fruit, flowers, books, or even a plate of meat. During his time, he acquired international fame and the public reacted to his paintings much the way we do today: with admiration, humor, and fascination. Summer belongs to a set of four paintings that depict the four seasons of the year. Arcimboldo and his workshop painted numerous copies of this set, as did many imitators of the master.
Arcimboldo, a master of allegory, painted each portrait in the Four Seasons series using vegetation associated with that time of year. While his paintings amused and fascinated wealthy courtiers with their apparent whimsy, they also appealed to the intellect. For this set, Arcimboldo suggested that each season corresponds to a stage of human life: Spring stands for youth; Winter, old age; and Summer shows a man in his prime. The series also carried a specific political message—the paintings were meant to symbolically glorify the Emperor. As an Emperor ruled over human affairs, he could also be said to run the greater world, including the seasons. The harmonious combinations of fruit and vegetables reflect the harmony that exists under the Emperor’s rule. Each head also wears something that can be seen as a wreath or a crown. Because of the underlying political messages, these paintings were the perfect, flattering gift for the German Emperors to give to other courts.
The Artist’s “Signature”
The artist’s name is woven into the wheat on Summer’s collar. The date 1572 can be found on his shoulder.
Arcimboldo painted each piece of fruit realistically and arranged them to form an actual human face, imitating skin and musculature, all the while creating a character with personality. A row of peas in a pod make for perfectly spaced teeth, while ripe cherries form plump lips. A round peach creates the perfect rosy cheek and a cucumber imitates a bumpy weathered nose.
The profile format of this painting was probably inspired by portrait heads of Roman emperors, known to Renaissance artists as depicted on Roman coinage. By using the same format in his portraits, Arcimboldo associated Emperor Rudolph II—to whom these works were linked—with a powerful Roman emperor.
The Season’s Harvest
Summer depicts green grapes, plums, mulberries, melon, hazelnuts, assorted pears, cherries, peaches, corn, garlic bulbs, onions, pea pods, eggplant, various squashes, cucumber, artichokes, and wheat.
Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.
The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.