Giuseppe Arcimboldo, also spelled Arcimboldi (1527-1593) was an Italian painter best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of such objects as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books — that is, he painted representations of these objects on the canvas arranged in such a way that the whole collection of objects formed a recognisable likeness of the portrait subject.

Arcimboldo was born in Milan in 1527. He was commissioned to do stained glass window designs beginning in 1549, including the "Stories of St. Catherine of Alexandria" vitrage at the Duomo. In 1556 he worked with Giuseppe Meda on frescoes for the Cathedral of Monza. In 1558, he drew the cartoon for a large tapestry of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, which still hangs in the Como Cathedral today.

In 1562 he became court portraitist to Ferdinand I at the Habsburg court in Vienna, and later, to Maximilian II and his son Rudolf II at the court in Prague. He was also the court decorator and costume designer. King Augustus of Saxony, who visited Vienna in 1570 and 1573, saw Arcimboldo's work and commissioned a copy of his "The Four Seasons" which incorporates his own monarchic symbols.

Arcimboldo's conventional work, on traditional religious subjects, has fallen into oblivion, but his portraits of human heads made up of vegetables, fruit, sea creatures and tree roots, were greatly admired by his contemporaries and remain a source of fascination today. Art critics debate whether these paintings were whimsical or the product of a deranged mind. A majority of scholars hold to the view, however, that given the Renaissance fascination with riddles, puzzles, and the bizarre (see, for example, the grotesque heads of Leonardo da Vinci), Arcimboldo, far from being mentally imbalanced, catered to the taste of his times.

Arcimboldo died in Milan, to which he retired after leaving the Habsburg service. It was during this last phase of his career that he produced the composite portrait of Rudolph II, as well as his self-portrait as the "Four Seasons". His Italian contemporaries honored him with poetry and manuscripts celebrating his illustrious career.

When the Swedish army invaded Prague in 1648, during the Thirty Years' War, many of Arcimboldo's paintings were taken from Rudolf II's collection.

The bizarre works of Arcimboldo, especially his multiple images, were rediscovered in the early 20th century by Surrealist artists like Salvador Dalí


"Spring, 1573" (1573) Oil on canvas. Louvre Museum, Paris, France.



"Summer, 1573" (1573) Oil on canvas. Louvre Museum, Paris, France.



"Summer" (1563) Oil on canvas. Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Austria.



"Autumn, 1573" (1573) Oil on canvas. Louvre Museum, Paris, France.






"Winter, 1573" (1573) Oil on canvas. Louvre Museum, Paris, France.









"Vertumnus (portrait of Rudolf II)" (1591) Oil on panel. Skokloster Castle, Sweden.



"The Librarian" (1556) Oil on canvas. Skokloster Castle, Sweden.



"The Four Seasons" (circa 1590) Oil on poplar, 60.4 x 44.7 cm - 23 3/4 x 17 5/8 in. Private collection, New York, USA.



"Air" Oil on canvas. Private collection, Basle, Switzerland.



"Water" (1566) Oil on wood. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.



"Earth" (circa 1570) Oil on wood. Private collection, Vienna, Austria.



"Fire" (1566) Oil on wood. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.



"The Vegetable Gardener" (circa 1590) Oil on wood. Museo Civico Ala Ponzone, Cremona, Italy.

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"The Cook" (circa 1570) Oil on panel, 52.5 x 41 cm - 20 11/16 x 16 3/16 in. Private collection, Stokholm, Sweden.

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"Head with Fruit Basket" (circa 1590) Oil on wood, 55.9 x 41.6 cm - 22 x 16 3/8 in.

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Text source: 'Wikipedia' ( and others.

Related Artists:


Related Terms: Renaissance, Surrealism, Fresco, Cartoon.


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