Renaissance Man

Rudolph IIGuiseppe Archimboldo (1527-1593) was a Renaissance painter famous for his portraits composed from fruits, vegetables, and plants.  This portrait of Rudolph II called “Vertumnus” (1590) shows how Archimboldo used the qualities of a myriad of vegetables to create a human likeness.  Notice the squash forehead and the peapod eyelids.

Renaissance portraitThe Four Seasons” (1563-75) are his most famous portraits.  This series of detailed paintings of portraits in profile made his reputation. “Spring”, above includes over 80 varieties of Spring flowers.  Visual puns and puzzles delighted Renaissance audiences with their whimsy.  Conversely, these portraits are also said to be examples of The Doctrine of Signatures, a theory of herbalism where plants were used to treat body parts they physically resembled.

New York Botanical GardenThis summer at the New York Botanic Garden, film-maker turned sculptor Philip Haas  (“Angels and Insects” and “Up at the Villa”) has created four gigantic 15’ fiberglass sculptures of “The Four Seasons” for today’s audiences.

"Spring" by Philip HaasHass has envisioned them in a very Jeff Koons manner, these portraits have exploded in scale and voluptuousness!  A video on YouTube shows the scene:

"Spring" a close-upMoving in closer look for the poppy seed pods as teeth, a peony as an ear, forget-me-nots as a collar and a honeysuckle flower as an earring.  Does spring look like this to you?

"Summer" by Philip HaasAcross the way, “Summer” celebrates the crops that ripen and feed the world.  Eggplants, cucumbers, garlic cloves and make up the young man with corn for ears.  These figures sit on a plinth surrounded by boxwood hedges.

"Winter" by Philip Haas“Winter” is wrapped in a straw cloak and is formed from roots and tree branches, mosses, ferns and a few citrus fruits.  All the organic forms were molded in fiberglass.  The “M” just visible in the Cape is for Emporer Maximillian. This is one fierce ‘Old Man Winter’

"Autumn" by Philip Haas“Autumn” sits in a wine barrel surrounded by grapes, with a millet beard and organic squash for cheeks and nose.  These sculptures have traveled to London, France, and Milan before touring US botanical gardens in Arizona and New York where they will be on view through October.

Vegetable tower by Lady S

At the Berkshire Botanical Garden last summer, “The Grow Show” would have inspired both Archimboldo and Hass.  This delightful design by Lady S features her home-grown vegetables!

Home grown veggiesA closeup shows their wonderful variety which created this charming design.

Vegetable bouquetThis design used vegetables and leafy plant material to create a traditional bouquet.

Modern vegetable designArchimboldo would have loved the play of these multicolored peppers creating forms and textures across this design.  School’s out so gather some veggie stickers and let the kids create their own vegetable portraits.


About Susan

Susan Detjens is a former landscape painter, she lectures, demonstrates and runs workshops on floral design for museums, horticultural organizations and garden clubs across the US.
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