Arcimboldo is the Best Exhibition in Rome This Fall

When in Rome…

When you visit a big city like Rome it’s often difficult to figure out what to see in limited amount of time.

Whether you’re traveling to the Italian capital for the first time or you’re familiar with the city, here’s an art show you don’t want to miss this fall/winter.

From October 2017 to February 2018, the stunning Palazzo Barberini hosts the retrospective exhibition of genius painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

But why would you include Arcimboldo in your Roman holiday’s agenda?

Exhibition entrance

For starters, by going to see Arcimboldo you’ll kill two birds with one stone.

With all there is to see in Rome art-wise, you’ll get to visit both Palazzo Barberinian amazing example of Roman Baroque architecture –  and this super cool show.

The Palace

In 1625 Maffeo Barberini, of the noble Barberini Family (who later became Pope Urban VIII), purchased the site where the palace now stands from the Sforza Family.

The architectural project sought to combine an urban princely dwelling with a semi-enclosed garden with the features of a suburban villa.

Today Palazzo Barberini is home to the National Gallery of Ancient Art, one of the most important painting collections in Italy, and a space for temporary exhibitions.

The location is also very convenient for sightseeing. You’ll be at walking distance from beautiful places like Fontana di Trevi, Via del Corso, Via Margutta and the Spanish Steps, among several others.

Palazzo Barberini’s Main Entrance.
Palazzo Barberini’s garden

The Artist

Giuseppe Arcimboldo is not your typical Renaissance painter.

Unfortunately, for this reason, he’s usually superficially treated in Art History manuals about Italian Renaissance.

Despite this unjust treatment, his work is so unique that everybody knows him at least in terms of  “that painter who does faces out of fruit and veggies…”

Autumn, oil on canvas, 1572.

Arcimboldo was way ahead of his time. His paintings could, indeed, be our contemporary.

He was born and raised in Milan and apprenticed at his father’s atelier.

During those early years, he worked on the stained glass windows of Milan’s Duomo.

The Work

By the mid 1500s Arcimboldo was a member of a circle of artists whose research revolved around human expression and the natural world, especially its most unusual and bizarre aspects.

Winter, oil on wood, circa 1560
Spring, oil on wood, circa 1560

Arcimboldo created his famous “Composite Heads” within this cultural context.

Art Collecting in the 16th Century

The success of this particular body of work is linked to a specific phase in art collecting.

In the 16th century, European commercial routes opened towards the far East and the Americas. As a result, merchants, along with scientists and explorers, brought to the Old Continent animals, plants, minerals, scientific samples and artifacts never seen before.

Those novelties stimulated  a strong interest and taste for the exotic, the eccentric and the grotesque, in artists and collectors alike.

Collectors would arrange those objects in eclectic displays, defined by the German term of  “Wunderkammer” (or “cabinet of curiosities” in English).

Wunderkammer samples

Arcimboldo’s art was particularly appreciated at the House of Habsburg in Vienna, where he became court artist in 1562.

There, the motif of the “composite heads” reached its full form through the complete replacement of human features with natural things and themes.

Very well known, and on display at the exhibition, are the Four Season Cycle and the Four Elements Series.

Water, oil on wood, circa 1566
Earth, oil on wood, circa 1566

Arcimboldo’s painting style is definitely naturalistic and draws inspiration from the Flemish painting of the 16th century, characterized by the meticulous representation of the subjects’ most microscopic elements.

On the other hand, the father of Surrealism Andre’ Breton defined Arcimboldo as the first Surrealist artist in history, due to the absurd and bizarre nature of his work.

Air, oil on canvas, circa 1566
Fire, Oil on canvas,circa 1566

The Exhibition

The Roman exhibition is the first retrospective of Arcimboldo’s work in 10 years and one of the few retrospectives of the artist ever curated.

Most of the painter’s work is located in Vienna and Prague, as part of public as well as private collections.

Therefore, this is an amazing opportunity to see this master’s incredible artistic production gathered together.

Exhibition view

Arcimboldo’s work is witty and playful. It draws the audience into discovering hidden forms and exploring new ways of looking at the world.

When I went to the show, both adults and kids were equally fascinated by the originality of his visual language. 

Study for the Four Season Cycle


If you have any other suggestion about cool  events and venues to check out in Rome this fall/winter let us know in the comment section!

For more artsy travel tips sign up to my newsletter and keep on traveling in style!

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