This panel repeats the celebrated composition of Winter
from Giuseppe Arcimboldo's anthropomorphic allegorical set of the Four Seasons,
the prime versions of which are housed in the Kunsthistorisches, Vienna (Summer
), and the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid (Spring
). The prime version of Autumn
The Four Seasons
are the first known examples of the artist's most famous compositions, the teste composte
, or "composite heads". These portraits comprise of seemingly discordant natural elements, such as flowers, bark and fruit, to create a lively and theatrical portrayal. Arcimboldo's clever inventions form the largest part of his oeuvre
, and each allegorical portrait is repeated in several versions.
Arcimboldo entered service in the Habsburg Court, Vienna, in the early 1560s and the prime versions of the Four Seasons
, dated 1563,
are the earliest known works to be painted during his time there.2
Evidence through contemporary poems by Giovanni Battista Fontana suggest the Four Seasons
were presented as gifts to Emperor Maximilian II on New Year's Day of 1569, along with their complementary series, the Four Elements
The composite heads, flush with symbols of the Habsburg Empire, were devised as an entertaining allegory of the family's rule, so titanic in its power that it might govern the very seasons and all the elements of the universe.
1. T. Dacosta Kaufmann, Arcimboldo, Visual Jokes, Natural History, and Still-Life Painting, Chicago and London 2009, p. 28, reproduced fig. 1.8.
2. Ibid, p. 50.
3. Ibid, p. 56.