Students will examine the artistic characteristics of Summer; make comparisons between physical features of the figure portrayed in Summer with items from the natural world; and create poems using similes and metaphors comparing a person’s physical appearance with items from the natural world.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 50 minute lesson
Standards AreaLanguage Arts
Students will be able to:
- examine the artistic characteristics of Summer;
- make comparisons between the physical features of the figure portrayed in Summer with items from the natural world; and
- create poems using similes and metaphors comparing a person’s physical appearance with items from the natural world
1. Read aloud a book using metaphors and similes (see Materials section for suggestions). As you are reading discuss each simile and metaphor to build students' understanding of these literary terms. Explain to students that they are going to study an artist who used similes and metaphors in his paintings by depicting leaders in interesting ways.
2. 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? Does the title, Summer, fit the painting? Why or why not?
3. Explain to the students that Giuseppe 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. Summer belongs to a set of four paintings that depict the four seasons and include vegetation associated with each time of year.
4. Invite the students to take a closer look at Summer and make connections between the fruits, vegetables, and other items from nature and the physical features of the human body. Tell the students that poets during Arcimboldo’s time would have said that lovers’ lips were as sweet and red as cherries. What other comparisons can be made in Summer? (Teeth as evenly spaced as peas in a pod, skin as soft as a peach, and a long and bumpy nose like a cucumber.) Record all comparisons.
5. Have the students brainstorm similes and/or metaphors comparing certain features of the person’s appearance with items from the natural world (e.g., eyes like blueberries or almonds, hair that twists like a grapevine). Invite students to write admiration/love or silly poetry using these similes and metaphors for their family members or friends.
Brown eyes like almonds
Hair as golden as wheat growing in the sun
Skin as soft as a peach
Skin as green as peas
Nose like a bumpy cucumber
Teeth like rotten corn kernels
Hair as dry as burned straw)
6. If time allows, invite students to cut out pictures from magazines (you may also want to download and print pictures of historical figures from the Internet) and create a composite portrait collage using their poetry as a guide. Tell them to pay particular attention to the physical features of the person they described. You can also encourage students to add illustrations to their poems.
7. When students have finished their assignments, invite volunteers to share their work and display all the students’ pieces in a prominent place in the classroom.
- Lined paper for writing
- Materials for collage, such as magazines, newspaper ads, pictures, scissors, paper, and glue
- A book about metaphors and similes, such as Skin Like Milk, Hair of Silk: What Are Similes and Metaphors? by Brian Cleary, or Stubborn as a Mule and Other Silly Similes by Nancy Jean Loewen
- 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
- Social Studies
- Ask questions, share information and discuss ideas about the past and present
- Visual Arts
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Envision and Critique to Reflect
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Writing and Composition
- Reading for All Purposes
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
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.
The artist’s name is woven into the wheat on Summer’s collar. The date 1572 can be found on his shoulder.
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.
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.
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.