This fascinating and surreal portrait is of Rudolph II, archduke of Hapsburg and Holy Roman Emperor. He is depicted as Vertumnus who, according to Roman mythology, is the god of seasons, change and plant growth, as well as gardens and fruit trees.
Through depicting Rudolph II as Vertumnus, Acrimboldo (the artist) portrays the Emperor as a symbol of change and a bringer of progress. By way of synthesizing human form and plant life Acrimboldo associates Rudoph II with the theme of transformation and growth. This in turn reflects the increasing secularization of much of European art during its time.
The portrait, which is now housed in Skokloster Castle in Sweden, was painted by Guiseppe Acrimboldo (1526-1593). Acrimboldo was born in Milan and collected a series of religious commissions which included stained glass window designs of the Stories of St. Catherine of Alexandria Vitrage at the Duomo and frescoes for the Cathedral of Monza. However, his best known work is that of his witty and intriguing portraits of people – including the Hapsburg family – made of plants, vegetables, sea creatures, flowers, dinner roasts and an amalgamation of other materials.
Acrimboldo was welcomed by Rudolph’s father, Maximilian II, into his Vienna court in the early 1560s. The artist went onto to serve the Hapsburg family for more than 25 years.
Acrimboldo’s portraits fell into obscurity for over 300 years before being reclaimed by the Surrealist movement in the 1920s who drew inspiration from his anthropomorphic paintings.
Similar anthropomorphic works by Acrimboldo are two series of paintings known as Four Seasons and Four Elements.