Artists in residence: Giuseppe Arcimboldo and you

The following is by contributor Robin Zipporah of The Not-Ever-Still Life.

Last week I introduced this new series, Artists in Residence. Are you excited to begin an earnest conversation with your kids about art? Let’s go.

Meet artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

May I present you two of his paintings:

Photo by Wikipedia
Spring, 1573, Musee de Louvre, Paris.

Photo by Wikipedia
Vertumnus, 1590-91, Skokloster Castle, Sweden.

What do you see here?

Remember our first question: what do you see here? Ask your kids that question and that’s it! You’re having a conversation about art. You can discuss basic shapes such as circles and ovals; visible colors; recognizable food and flora.

Now talk about shape. How is shape important to these paintings? What is a shape? How do smaller shapes combine to form larger ones? How does a pear also look so much like a nose? How do our eyes see recognizable shapes in everyday objects? Can you find examples around you? And don’t forget our second questions: what else do you see?

The takeaway: when we look at Arcimboldo’s paintings we want to think about the role of shape in composition. In his paintings the overall composition is the first recognizable image. You look at these two portraits and immediately see the people represented. But the elements, the individual shapes, play an integral, prominent, and playful role.

Your artists in residence

Let’s explore the idea of using recognizable shapes to create larger works. It’s time to play with your food! Make an Arcimboldo-style portrait with your kids.

Here’s what my daughters came up with recently, using sliced bell peppers, parsley, garlic cloves, strawberry tops, a banana, uncooked orzo and a few cookie sprinkles:

Photo by Robin Zipporah
We’d love to see your creations. If you’re so inclined, please upload images of your portraits to the Simple Kids Facebook page! And in the coming days, keep talking about shape. Notice how the bookshelf is a composite of rectangles. Point out the hexagons in the cobblestone. And don’t forget to look for recognizable images in clouds!

In talking about shape, you’re developing a discerning eye. Of course we spend all day looking at things, but how often do you study what you see to understand its underlying form? To understand art, we need to understand the role of shape in composition, and it’s a great natural starting point for children.

Further resources

With older kids, look up the story of Vertumnus. See if you can identify fruits and vegetables that don’t naturally grow in the same season. Think about the artist’s intention.

With younger kids, visit your library for the book Shapes by Philip Yenawine.

For more information on Arcimboldo, read this article on his style and significance and view this gallery for more images of his works.

Until next time

Next time we meet here for Artists in Residence, we’re going to look at some pieces that use individual shapes in an opposite manner, so that they blend to reveal the whole composite piece as the primary image. Keep looking at shapes. Don’t forget our two sets of questions. And because this idea is new here at Simple Kids, please let me know if you have any feedback on this post!

What is your favorite shape?

About Robin

Robin has two daughters, a son, a lovely husband who works many more than full-time hours and a full-time career of her own in government in the suburbs of Washington, DC. You can always read more about Robin’s parenting philosophies and her family’s antics and adventures at her personal blog The Not-Ever-Still Life, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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  1. How great! I loved this post!
    Sally { with eager hands }´s latest post: TOS Schoolhouse Review :: Beloved Books

  2. What a fun way to begin the series! Just yesterday, we were hunting shapes in the clouds. This will be a hit at our house. Thanks!
    Gina´s latest post: simple homemade granola

  3. Robin from Frugal Family Times says:

    I absolutely love this post. I am going to set aside time this weekend to do the activities with my kids. I know I want my kids to have a better understanding of art than I had as a kid, but didn’t know how. This series will be a wonderful guidebook. Thanks!
    Robin from Frugal Family Times´s latest post: How to Make a (Surprisingly Simple) Peacock Costume

  4. This is so cool, Robin! My kids would love this—thanks for the idea.
    Tsh @ Simple Mom´s latest post: Less is more

  5. Good for you! I love teaching my kids about artists–they’ll love this. Thanks.
    Zipporah Bird´s latest post: Interview with Paul: I guess sometimes I’d like to do more than I can do for her.

  6. Play with their food? My kids will be all in!! Clever teaching, love it.
    Kerry @ Made For Real´s latest post: Game Giveaway!!