Composite Picture of a Leader

Lesson Plan

Lesson

Students will examine the artistic characteristics of Summer; explain how Arcimboldo’s composite paintings convey multiple layers of meaning; and create a composite drawing or collage of a famous leader from history sharing the accomplishments, issues, and challenges associated with his or her tenure as a leader.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Social Studies

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • examine the artistic characteristics of Summer;
  • explain how Arcimboldo’s composite paintings convey multiple layers of meaning; and
  • create a composite drawing or collage of a famous leader from history sharing the accomplishments, issues, and challenges associated with his or her tenure as a leader.

Lesson

  1. Display Summer to the class. Invite the students to look carefully and share what they observe. What do they notice about the painting? What materials and objects do they recognize? Why might the artist have used fruits, vegetables, and other items from nature in this painting? How does the title of the painting relate to its content? What adjectives would the students use to describe the painting?
  2. Share with students that Summer was created by Giuseppe Arcimboldo in 1572 during the period in history known as the Renaissance. Arcimboldo, a master of allegory, painted each portrait in the Four Seasons series using vegetation associated with that time of year.
  3. Explain to students that while Arcimboldo's paintings amused and fascinated wealthy courtiers with their apparent whimsy, they also appealed to the intellect. Use information found in the About the Art section to talk about the political message communicated by the paintings.
  4. Inform the students that Arcimboldo also incorporated other materials such as books, flowers, and birds into his composite paintings. Display some of Arcimboldo’s other pieces, which can be found at Giuseppe Arcimboldo: The Complete Works.
  5. Invite the students to think of a famous leader from a time period in history that they have studied. With what accomplishments, issues, and challenges was this leader associated?
  6. Using these ideas, invite students to create a composite drawing or collage of this individual and the topics associated with his or her tenure as a leader. For ideas on how to create these collages, look at this website that features a book called What Presidents Are Made Of.
  7. You might want to have students work in small groups to create poster-sized drawings or collages for this activity.
  8. When students have completed their composite drawings or collages of their chosen leaders, display their pieces and have a “gallery walk” around the classroom.

Materials

  • Found objects and magazines for cutting out pictures
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Internet access to some helpful websites like:
  • About the Art section on Summer
  • One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen

Standards

CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Understand the concept that the power of ideas is significant throughout history
      • Become familiar with Western Hemisphere historical eras, groups, individuals, and themes
      • Analyze the concepts of continuity and change and effect
      • Become familiar with United States historical eras, groups, individuals, and themes
    • Geography
      • Understand geographic variables and how they affect people
  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Summer

Summer

1572

Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Who Made It?

Giuseppe Arcimboldo [jew-SEP-pay arch-im-BOLD-OH] was born to a distinguished family in Milan, Italy, and began working as an artist at the Milan Cathedral, creating stained glass, fabrics, and paintings. His father, a painter, probably provided his early training. As the official artist and Master of Festivals for three successive German Emperors, Arcimboldo designed costumes, stage settings, chariots, and other diversions for courtly events and ceremonies. He was also in charge of making acquisitions for the royal cabinet of curiosities, which included art, antiques, curios, oddities of nature, and exotic animals and birds. He engineered creative water works, and even dreamed up a “color-piano” that was played by court musicians. He was perfect for the job and was richly rewarded for his inventiveness.

Arcimboldo was best known for his fantastical “composite head” paintings. These were portraits composed of objects such as fruit, flowers, books, or even a plate of meat. During his time, he acquired international fame and the public reacted to his paintings much the way we do today: with admiration, humor, and fascination. Summer belongs to a set of four paintings that depict the four seasons of the year. Arcimboldo and his workshop painted numerous copies of this set, as did many imitators of the master.

What Inspired It?

Arcimboldo, a master of allegory, painted each portrait in the Four Seasons series using vegetation associated with that time of year. While his paintings amused and fascinated wealthy courtiers with their apparent whimsy, they also appealed to the intellect. For this set, Arcimboldo suggested that each season corresponds to a stage of human life: Spring stands for youth; Winter, old age; and Summer shows a man in his prime. The series also carried a specific political message—the paintings were meant to symbolically glorify the Emperor. As an Emperor ruled over human affairs, he could also be said to run the greater world, including the seasons. The harmonious combinations of fruit and vegetables reflect the harmony that exists under the Emperor’s rule. Each head also wears something that can be seen as a wreath or a crown. Because of the underlying political messages, these paintings were the perfect, flattering gift for the German Emperors to give to other courts.

Details

The Artist’s “Signature”
The Artist’s “Signature”

The artist’s name is woven into the wheat on Summer’s collar. The date 1572 can be found on his shoulder.

Illusion
Illusion

Arcimboldo painted each piece of fruit realistically and arranged them to form an actual human face, imitating skin and musculature, all the while creating a character with personality. A row of peas in a pod make for perfectly spaced teeth, while ripe cherries form plump lips. A round peach creates the perfect rosy cheek and a cucumber imitates a bumpy weathered nose.

Profile
Profile

The profile format of this painting was probably inspired by portrait heads of Roman emperors, known to Renaissance artists as depicted on Roman coinage. By using the same format in his portraits, Arcimboldo associated Emperor Rudolph II—to whom these works were linked—with a powerful Roman emperor.

The Season’s Harvest
The Season’s Harvest

Summer depicts green grapes, plums, mulberries, melon, hazelnuts, assorted pears, cherries, peaches, corn, garlic bulbs, onions, pea pods, eggplant, various squashes, cucumber, artichokes, and wheat.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.