Guiseppe Arcimboldo. Medieval Riddles.

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People were different a few centuries ago.  They were less tall then we are, more violent, lived shorter lives and knew how to entertain themselves without iPads. During medieval times people became interested in riddles and quests for pleasure which I think is much more amusing then watching a public beheading.

I did not tell my students the name of the artist we were going to study and try to imitate. Instead, following the medieval tradition, I made a quest for them so they could find out the letters of his name and read it. You can find a lot of  riddles here and you can easily adjust the hardness of the questions according to your child’s age. My class is mixed and I had different levels to let everybody participate.

A:  I have many feathers to help me fly. I have a body and head, but I’m not alive. It is your strength which determines how far I go. You can hold me in your hand, but I’m never thrown.  (Arrow)

R:  When one does not know what it is, then it is something; but when one knows what it is, then it is nothing. (Riddle)

C:  What has a head and tail but no body? (Coin)

I: I’m there when its cold, disappear when its hot. Diamond-like but can be crushed. (Ice)

M:    When you look at my face, it is easy to see. You’re looking at you when you’re looking at me!  (Mirror)

B:    Light as a feather, there is nothing in it; the strongest man can’t hold it for much more than a minute?  (Breath)

O:     Put a knife in me and cry. Can u guess what am I?  (Onion)

L:   L is for lizards. I gave them this letter but wanted them to find an answer to the following riddle: Five lizards were climbing a wall. One of them started singing a beautiful song and when it finished the rest of the lizards fell on the floor. Why? (Lizards are very polite, when one finishes a song they always clap. That is why they all fell. Simple!)

D:   The more there is the less you see. (Darkness)

O:   Open my door and I will bake cookies, meat or a cake. (Oven)

When they finally were able to read the artist name it was to a time for the visual feast. Giuseppe Arcimboldo was, what you now call, a designer. He worked at a king’s court making decorations for the parties and costumes. If his decorations were even half as good as his paintings, they already were fabulous.

Arcimboldo_Librarian_Stokholm The-Water-The-Water-1563-64slide_379600_4490932_freeThe-Winter-large

Some art critics said that he was crazy but I think he had a wild imagination and amazing talent. Surprisingly none of his “serious” works got any attention but he is well known for his beautiful portraits made out of objects like fruit, fish or books. He also famous for depicting the four seasons and the four elements.


Some of his works are visual puns. Look at this one:

The kids really loved onion cheeks. 🙂


And then we started painting. I have to tell you it’s not easy to fill the masters’ shoes but my students accomplished it anyway. Since it is May and everything is blooming, we picked Spring as our model. Here is our feast:

Valeria, 5
Anna, 5
Maria, 10
Nicholas, 5
Sasha, 9
Ali. 5
Max, 10    has used his imagination and created a visual pan! It’s a vase… It’s a sun… Its a human face!

We used acrylic on canvas paper.  The creative process took approximately 45min. I suggested that we used dabbing for painting flowers. Dabbing is a wonderful technique if you wish to create texture.  It’s in a name. Take a dry brush, get some color on it and dab on the paper. The trick is not to use water so the paint is thick enough to leave a texture on the canvas or paper.

More on acrylic techniques is here.

We took a wild guess that Arcimboldo liked to listen to lute while working and this is what we were listening to:

The complete works and biography of this unusual artist can be found if you follow this link.

Have a great class!


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