Philip Haas: The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons is a quartet of painted fiberglass sculptures by contemporary American artist and filmmaker Philip Haas. They are studies for large-scale versions 15 feet high, and are re-creations of a portrait series by Italian Mannerist painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526/1527–1593). As in Arcimboldo’s whimsical paintings, the physical features of the four figures are rendered in botanical forms appropriate to each season: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.

Arcimboldo, who was court portraitist to the Habsburg Imperial Court for 25 years, painted The Four Seasons in 1563 and presented them to his patron Maximilian II on New Year’s Day, 1569. Hailed for their wit and artifice, the paintings were popular at court and solidified his reputation as the most modern painter of his time. Despite his renown, Arcimboldo faded into obscurity after his death, until the 20th century, when the Surrealists rediscovered his bizarre and idiosyncratic imagery. His legacy continues to influence artists like Haas today.

Haas’s 21st-century interpretations of Arcimboldo’s eccentric yet scientifically accurate composite heads are puzzles crafted with flowers, ivy, moss, fungi, vegetables, fruit, trees, bark, branches, and twigs. He gives viewers a fresh perspective by re-creating what has been a two-dimensional experience — viewing Arcimboldo’s painted “portraits” — as a three-dimensional experience, giving us the opportunity to walk around the sculptures, see the subjects from all sides. and witness nature’s rhythmic cycles.