The fascinating still life portraits of Guiseppe Arcimboldo were largely forgotten in the centuries following his death – until his rediscovery in the 20th century by modernist and surrealist painters such as Picasso and Salvador Dali. How could it happen that such a brilliant and original artist almost vanished from the annals of art history? The Renaissance was marked by a fascination with riddles, puzzles, and the bizarre, which is also evident in the art of his Arcimboldo’s contemporaries, such as Hieronymus Bosch and Peter Bruegel. As the Renaissance faded into Baroque and Rococo this fascination was gradually replaced by esthetic indulgence and dramatic displays, plump women and lavish interiors. In the meantime Prague, where Archimboldo had spent most of his life as a painter for the Habsburg court, was sacked by the Swedish army in 1648, and his work spread across Europe. Arcimboldo’s assembled portraits are playful, but also scientific in their representation of nature. He was certainly an eccentric, but his absurd, yet analytical portraits still capture us almost five hundred years later. For those wanting to read more about Arcimboldo, there is a great article about him at rhetoricaldeivice.com
These animal illustrations are from a 1960’s edition of Danish Lademann’s Encyclopedia. The illustrator has done an impressive job of squeezing all the animals into their respective habitats or families, resulting in these fantastic and somewhat surrealistic illustrations. They are however perfectly in tune with the encyclopedia of the past century, before the creation of Wikipedia and the internet – Get as much information as possible compressed into your limited volumes of books. As a summer temp at an antiquarian book shop in the Norwegian Book Town, I have unfortunately seen a lot of these old encyclopedias end up in the paper recycling. I’ve saved a few, but realizing there is a limit to how many old encyclopedias I need in my book shelf I have also dissected many of them, resulting in a great collection of old illustrations.
The cat and mouse game has been a favourite theme for animators and audiences alike since the early days of the animated cartoon. Whether the predator is a wolf or a cat, and whatever animal the innocent victim may be, these films always follow the same pattern; the big bad wolf/cat looses his chances to eat bunny/bird/mouse steak due to arrogance, stupidity and slow response in the defining moment. The audience loves to see the innocent little animal making a fool of the big bad animal trying to eat him. It is a deeply rooted theme, also present in fairytales from every corner of the world. It seems we all like to see the big and strong being overpowered by the small and helpless. In the case of Nu Pogodi, we have a cigarette smoking wolf constantly assaulting an androgynous little bunny rabbit – luckily to no avail.
This is one of my favorite classic computer game tunes, composed by Martin Iveson for the Jaguar XJ220 game on Amiga back in the early nineties.