Art and Images in Psychiatry |

Arcimboldo's Vertumnus: A Portrait of Rudolf II

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(5):442-443. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.41.
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—Gregorio Comanini, The Figino, or on the Purpose of Painting, 15911(p19,24)

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) was a creative force in the courts of Maximilian II (1527-1576) and his son Rudolf II (1552-1612), Habsburg emperors of the Holy Roman Empire in Vienna and Prague.2,3 Originally recruited as a court painter, Arcimboldo saw his role rapidly expand to arranging lavish court ceremonies (royal marriages, festivities for a royal crowning), designing costumes and masques for balls, and organizing tournaments. He designed ducal coats of arms, decorated organ cases, and proposed a colorimetric system for musical transcription, wherein a melody might be represented by small spots of color on a sheet of paper. And he composed poems about his paintings. For all these creative activities, he was granted the title of Count Palatinate the year after completing his portrait of Rudolf II as Vertumnus; the title was a rare honor given to only 3 artists in the 16th century, one Arcimboldo shared with Titian.

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Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593), Italian. Portrait of Rudolf II as Vertumnus, 1590. Oil on wood, 70.5 × 57.5 cm. © Skokloster Castle, Sweden. Photo credit: Samuel Uhrdin.

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Figure 1. Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593), Italian. The Librarian, 1566. Oil on canvas, 97 × 71 cm. © Skokloster Castle, Sweden. Photo credit: Samuel Uhrdin.

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Figure 2.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593), Italian. Flora, 1591. Oil on wood, 72.8 × 56.3 cm. Location: private collection, Paris, France. Photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York, New York.

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