I just got back from a trip to Tokyo, and one of the highlights was an Arcimboldo exhibition at the National Museum of Western Art . Arcimboldo was a 16th century artist famous for making portraits of Hapsburgs out of vegetables, animals and various household items. If you want to talk about whimsy, this guy made a career out of whimsy!
But at the same time, he was very serious about his humor. You can see that his fruits and veggies and animals are all very anatomically correct, almost like botanical illustrations. And putting them together to make recognizable faces took a special eye for composition as well as a lot of hard work, I should imagine.
Arcimboldo was also a multi-media artist. Not only did he create portraits, he designed costumes for festivals and according to this Smithsonian Magazine online article, he also wrote poetry and invented a harpsichord-like instrument.
I look at his famous works, and I can’t help but laugh . . . then wonder at the marvelousness of the execution. Thought, skill and scholarship, all synthesized into an accessible package. I love it!
Less whimsical but interesting all the same is the theory that Michelangelo hid anatomical studies of the brain in the Sistine Chapel – the Voicebox of God does look an awful lot like the human brainstem. This Scientific American guest blog expands on the theory. I think the evidence is convincing – Michelangelo knew how to draw throats. Why would he put such a funny-looking one on God unless he was trying to say something? But on the other hand, from a very modern perspective, I read this as saying that the Voice of God is a construct of our brains. I’m almost certain that wasn’t what Michelangelo was trying to say, but once art is out of the artist’s hands, it’s enhanced and sometimes twisted by the viewer’s perspective. That’s the nature of art.
And what hidden messages am I trying to convey in this blog post? I guess the same old message I’ve conveyed many times: follow your muses, your Girls in the Basement. Let them out to have a good exercise session of their whimsy muscles, and then take a look at what resulted a few days later. You may be surprised at what you find.
(And everyone should get a gander at Arcimboldo’s work. Here’s a gallery of dozens of his paintings and sketches. http://www.giuseppe-arcimboldo.org/the-complete-works.html)