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License of this image: CC-BY-SA
License of original image: Skokloster Castle, Sweden - Public Domain

By: Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526 or 1527–1593)
Created: c. 1590-1591, Collection: Skokloster Castle, Sweden, Håbo Municipality, Sweden Rights: Public Domain

Do you think that you look like Rudolf, despite him being made of fruit and vegetables? Or perhaps you could try to assemble your own fruit and vegetable portrait with seasonal plants - we want to see your imagination at work here!

Italian Mannerist painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo is famous for his whimsical portraits of human faces  assembled from objects such vegetables, books, plants, kitchen utensils,  fruits, sea creatures, animals and tree roots.

Arcimboldo’s intricate portraits reflect the Renaissance’s fascination with riddles, puzzles and the bizarre. Each of his portraits were composed of objects that were related to the person he was painting.

This painting is a portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus, the Roman god of metamorphoses in nature and life.  The plants depicted are flowers and fruits from all seasons, symbolising that Rudolf’s reign was one of abundance and harmony. As Rudolf II was not a popular ruler, we might guess that Arcimboldo chose to paint a strangely flattering depiction of him because Rudolf was a patron of Arcimboldo and a great collector of the arts.

Assembling these portraits took great imagination and attention to detail – how would you recreate this?