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Paint Me Like One of Your Fruit Baskets.

Odd request? Yes, but that’s exactly what Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II wanted from Arcimboldo when he commissioned this painting.  Maximillian II commissioned this painting depicting him as the four seasons as a gift to his cousin Augustus of Saxony. When you think of a portrait of a Habsburg ruler this might not be what you were expecting. At first glance, this strange portrait made of fruits, vegetables, and plants of all sorts is totally bizarre.

Arcimboldo’s bizarre portraits inspired surrealists and he is even considered the grandfather of surrealism. But, if you look a bit closer, Arcimboldo’s portraits were not surrealist at all. Post World War I, Surrealists thought politics and culture based on “rationalism” brought destruction to Europe. Their movement sought to merge reality with the dream world creating a combined surreal realm. Arcimboldo was on the opposite end of the spectrum. Rationalism was the driving force of the renaissance when Arcimboldo was appointed a Habsburg court painter. Scholars filled the court, including Arcimboldo, who studied botany and zoology. The Habsburgs were all about studying and collecting oddities, art, and rare specimens from mother nature. They even had botanical gardens and kept lions as pets.

Arcimboldo, like the rest of the court, was a naturalist. His paintings were not bizarre, imaginary compositions but probably inspired by his surroundings. Specifically, he was most likely influenced by elaborate banquet arrangements that included figures made from fruits and vegetables. During a time when royal paintings were rife with symbolism, dropping hints of their sitter’s imperial greatness, Arcimboldo took the symbolism quite literally. The peace, harmony and prosperity of Maximillian II’s rule is embodied in the harvest fruits and vegetables that make up his features.

Maximillian and the rest of the court were so inspired by Arcimboldo’s works that they asked him to organize a festival based on the paintings. He also designed the costumes for the participants, including the emperor who dressed as winter. As mentioned before, Maximillian II commissioned this painting to gift to Augustus of Saxony. This gift was likely a token to their friendship. Maximillian II wasn’t exactly discreet when trying to promote his own imperial image, but this was pretty common among the European royals. Court painters painted the royals with all their regalia and carefully placed symbolic objects emphasizing their divine claim to the throne. Court painters were basically the hype men for the European royalty and Arcimboldo had a great, if a bit fruity, take on it.


Comments (1)


I really like this picture because the longer you look at it the more you discover. I love how their eye is made of a single berry and their eyebrow is made from a single stalk of wheat. I also like that there is a lot of colors but it is not overwhelming to look at.