A personal language: Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s unique portraits

The Eclectic Light Company

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526/7–1593, also sometimes known as Arcimboldi) might have been just another of the thousands of Mannerist painters who satisfied the need for portraits, religious works, and the like. But some time in his mid-career he started to produce portraits which were unique, and even today have not been matched.

For instead of building his portraits in the normal way, using paint to imitate his perception of the form of the subject, his portraits were assembled from his painted representations of other objects and creatures – books, plants, flowers, birds, even the barrels of cannon.

No one seems to be sure exactly when this started to happen, nor why he did it, to begin with, but he probably painted his first when working as the court portraitist to the Habsburg court in Vienna, in the 1560s. It might have begun as a joke or whimsy, and some considered that…

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