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Autumn (1572)

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, "Summer," from Four Seasons, 1572. Oil on canvas, 93 x 72 cm. Art Museum, Denver

Presenting a shift from the earlier two portraits, “Autumn” is shown in the guise of a middle-aged man. Certainly more rough around the edges than the more refined portraits of the women, “Autumn” takes the series on a darker turn as the beginning chill of fall hints at the icy winter yet to come. Formed from various autumn products, his colors are muted as the brilliant and diverse shades of spring and summer cool down with the coming of the winter. However, the variety of produce present in the previous portraits still remains. Here, his face is formed with a pear for his nose, an invitingly round and ripe apple creates a cheek, while a pomegranate suggests his chin. The changing of the seasons is also present in the reappearance of wheat: rather than lush and golden like those forming the gown in “Summer”, “Autumn’s” beard of wheat is duller, browned and drooping. It is also far more wild and untamed contrary to the elegantly woven wheat of "Summer's" dress.

The figure also presents the next stage in the life-cycle of man: where “Spring” is youth, “Summer” is young adulthood, “Autumn” moves on to middle age, and “Winter” then completes the cycle as old age. Contrary to the earlier seasons, “Autumn’s” expression also shifts, as the smiling mouths and bright eyes of the women of “Spring” and “Summer” shift to a more dismal countenance and flat mouth. This is also evident in the depiction of the mouth itself, where rather than being created from more pleasant pieces as in the mouths of his female counterparts, is instead spiky, harsh and far less welcoming. There are other signs too that darker times are coming, as in the fig that stands in for an earring. Rather than depicting a whole, ripe fruit such as one that would have been present in “Summer”, Arcimboldo instead paints a fig that is burst, caught in the moment as its seeds spill and spoil the fruit.