Guiseppe Arcimboldo (1527-93) was a Milanese artist who was employed as a portrait painter at the court of the Hapsburg emperors in Prague. He was noted for painting a type of ‘capriccio’  – a form of painting which looks like heads or figures when seen from a distance but, upon closer inspection, is made up of fruit, vegetables or other objects. in 1590, Arcimboldo painted his royal patron, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus, the ancient Roman god of seasons, gardens and plants, who could change at will and was notorious for his disguises. In this painting Rudolf consists entirely of magnificent fruits, vegetables and flowers. This was seen as the crowning glory of paintings done by Arcimboldo for the Hapsburgs, as it represents plants and produce for the whole years brought together in perfect harmony so as to glorify Rudolf as the god Vertumnus. Rudulf was indeed pleased with this work and, whilst there are several other Arcimboldo paintings of a similar type, this by far is his most famous.

Don Gregorio Comanini, Arcimboldo’s friend wrote a glorious poem in celebration of this work and whilst it is too long to reproduce here, I would encourage you to look it up – it is simply called “Vertumnus.”


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