The Cook by Italian artist and designer, Giuseppe Arcimboldo (ca.1527 – 1593) has been added to the Porkopolis Museum of Art. In this work the painting of a platter of roast suckling pigs and fowls, when inverted, shows us the image of a man’s head – the cook.
This work is one of Arcimboldo’s many imaginatively painted portrait heads. He created each entirely from images of such objects as fruits, meats, vegetables, flowers and books. He painted representations of these objects on the canvas and arranged them in such a way that the composite formed a recognizable likeness of the portrait subject.
Significant today, the use of allegory, where subjects, characters or events stand for abstract ideas or principles is less anticipated and so less expected and perceived by society. Contemporary viewers might look at any one of Arcimboldo’s ‘double meaning’ or allegorical paintings and not see the abstract portrait, just an odd arrangement of a subject matter.
This is the context of our modern conceptual reasoning at work. In Arcimboldo’s time his works were very popular and full of easily recognizable allegorical references that all levels of society might instantly recognize, understand and enjoy.