Sunday, January 9, 2011

Arcimboldo, 1526–1593: Nature and Fantasy

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building

When: through January 9, 2011

I hope you've been to see this already, as it's closing today! I went to this exhibit later than I ordinarily would have done, as a co-worker wanted to go with me. Our schedules clashed for a while, and it was only over the Christmas holidays that we managed to find a mutually-convenient time to go.

This show was a lot of fun. It's perhaps the most fun I've had at an exhibit since I stared going. I've gone to exhibits that were beautiful, informative, melancholy, weird and impressive, but the one word that came to my mind as I looked at the paintings was fun.

My friend and I started our tour with the Philip Haas sculpture in the lobby outside the exhibit entrance. It's an enormous rendition of Winter, and when you see the original painting, you can even better appreciate the excellent job Haas did in re-creating it in three dimensions.

Just outside the show entrance is a diagram of Water, showing each sea creature in the painting. It's a great way to prepare visitors for what lies ahead. The show itself begins with some of Arcimboldo's influences, including several grotesques by Da Vinci. I wasn't expecting to see those, and I like it when an exhibit surprises me.

The Arcimboldo pieces are best viewed twice, once from a distance and once close up. From a distance, you can appreciate the paintings as faces, often those of court figures. From close up, you can see the constituent parts of the faces, usually flowers or vegetables. Think of them as both portraits and still lifes.

Of course, the Librarian was among my favorite pieces; this portrait was composed of books, a featherduster and bookmarks. I only wish they'd had a print of this that I could have displayed in my office at work.

Several of the paintings are reversible. There are mirrors in front of them, so that you can see them both ways. These are literally a portrait one way and a still life another.

There is a video within the exhibit on Arcimboldo and his life. If you didn't have time to watch it at the exhibit, it's also available for viewing at the National Gallery's website:

Verdict: Hope you didn't miss this, as it's a wonderful way to spend a lunch hour!

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