Renaissance painter Arcimboldo's fruit and vegetable portraits

 Images Arcimboldo-Rudolf-Ii-631
In the late 16th century, Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted witty, surreal portraits of people composed of fruit, vegetables, animals, and everyday objects. Right now, many of those paintings are on display at Washington, DC's National Gallery of Art. From Smithsonian:
Part scientist, part sycophant, part visionary, Arcimboldo was born in 1526 in Milan. His father was an artist, and Giuseppe's early career suggests the standard Renaissance daily grind: he designed cathedral windows and tapestries rife with angels, saints and evangelists. Though apples and lemons appear in some scenes, the produce is, comparatively, unremarkable. Rudolf's father, Maximilian II, the Hapsburg archduke and soon-to-be Holy Roman Emperor, welcomed the painter in his Vienna court in the early 1560s. Arcimboldo remained with the Hapsburgs until 1587 and continued to paint for them after his return to Italy...

Arcimboldo, according to an Italian friend, was always up to something capricciosa, or whimsical, whether it was inventing a harpsichord-like instrument, writing poetry or concocting costumes for royal pageants. He likely spent time browsing the Hapsburgs' private collections of artworks and natural oddities in the Kunstkammer, considered a predecessor of modern museums.

The first known composite heads were presented to Maximilian on New Year's Day 1569. One set of paintings was called The Four Seasons, and the other--which included Earth, Water, Fire and Air--The Four Elements. The allegorical paintings are peppered with visual puns (Summer's ear is an ear of corn) as well as references to the Hapsburgs. The nose and ear of Fire are made of fire strikers, one of the imperial family's symbols. Winter wears a cloak monogrammed with an "M," presumably for Maximilian, that resembles a garment the emperor actually owned. Earth features a lion skin, a reference to the mythological Hercules, to whom the Hapsburgs were at pains to trace their lineage. Many of the figures are crowned with tree branches, coral fragments or stag's antlers.

"Arcimboldo's Feast for the Eyes"


  1. …and if you can’t make it to DC, but find yourself in Denver, there are two of Archimboldo’s fruit-faced portraits in the Denver Art Museum’s permanent collection (6th floor, North Building).

  2. In the late 60th century, Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted witty, surreal portraits of people composed of fruit, vegetables, animals, and everyday objects.

    First person to write a scifi story based on this premise wins.

  3. There are two of his works at the old building of the Denver Art Museum. Each are male profiles based on summer and fall harvests, respectively. I seem to remember an employee telling me those would be leaving the gallery when I was there a couple months ago; must be in DC now.

  4. Woooow!!! Anyone know if this is coming to the west coast? I just quantified my love for his art and it turned out to be enough for a trip anywhere between mexico and vancouver on the west coast, but sadly not enough for a trip to DC.

  5. Reminds me of one of my favorite children’s books, ‘On Market Street’ by Arnold and Anita Lobel.
    It’s full of characters elaborately costumed in items like books, donuts, vegetables, etc..

    this page has a screen shot of a couple of the illustrations.

    It’s WONDERFUL. I would spend hours pouring over the illustrations.
    I miss it and I should get myself a copy just to have.

  6. For folks who adore stop-motion photography AND veggies, my friend Annabelle Breakey (an amazing food photographer) created 2 projects inspired by Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

    please view “king” and “queen” at:

    check out the rest of her photography too, you might recognize a lot of it!

  7. • I worked with the 4th graders at St. Joseph School to create this quick collage project February 2008.

    • Our In Touch with Art lesson this week is based on the art of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who was an Italian painter, born in Milan Italy in 1527, 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 recognizable likeness of the portrait subject.

    • I provided clippings of food items from magazines which the students chose and glued to black card stock. The kids were very excited and intuitive about just trusting their instincts and several students created as many as a half dozen of the collages in an hour and a half. These were finished in a second ninety minute session by students creating their Baroque golden frames fashioned from more food, namely a variety of dry pasta glued and painted gold as seen here.
    – JoDavid

  8. While I worked at Futurate, we produced an in-house php/flash test app that allows you to create just these sorts of pictures:

    It’s not finished (being only a proof of concept), but feel free to have a play with it :-)

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