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One day, Giuseppe Arcimboldo awoke and found himself transformed into a terrible mushroom-lipped tree.

Well, that’s not exactly what happened. Arcimboldo wasn’t like Kafka’s Josef K, and woke up just like he did on any other ordinary day. You might ask, was an ordinary day for Arcimboldo one that began with a bed-bound wake-n-bake and ended with a nightcap of absinthe? No. If he tripped on anything, it might’ve been his own toes. He was more like the 16th century Ovid of art, wanting to paint bodies changed into new forms, than a stoner.

This is Mr. Winter, the season of decay and rebirth personified. The wood that makes Winter’s body is an off-white, like days-old snow. It shines with the faint light that suggests dampness, perhaps from ice melting or a winter shower. Brrr. Just the description of the painting is enough to make you feel cold. Compared to Autumn  – Arcimboldo painted all four seasons in the style of a human profile –– the figure is less lively and richer in vitamin gloom. This is especially apparent in the facial expression. The figure’s mouth is puckered, curled into a grimace and his eyes are narrowed. Thankfully, the vegetation that makes up his hair, while reminiscent of mistletoe, is winter ivy. No one wants to kiss a mushroom mouth, even worse one that’s all wet from the cold. His beard roots are not helping his cause, either.

Yet the portrait is rather stately, with Mr. Winter appearing to be of noble rank. And he just might have been. Arcimboldo painted Winter as part of gift to the Hapsburgs, his beloved patrons and those infamous leaders of the Austrian empire who had a jawline for days, as a New Year’s gift in 1563. If you look at the sleeve the figure is wearing, there’s a giant “M” woven into the fabric. This likely references Maximilian, the ruler of the rival Roman empire. Having him as winter places him as a falling, decaying monarch.

Of all the putdowns, this might be the most beautiful ever put to canvas. Definitely the weirdest.



  1. Kaufmann, Thomas DaCosta. "Arcimboldo's Imperial Allegories." Zeitschrift Für Kunstgeschichte 39, no. 4 (1976): 275-96. doi:10.2307/1481925.
  2. Kriegeskorte, Werner, and Giuseppe Arcimboldi. Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593. Köln: Benedikt Taschen, 2004.
  3. Tucker, Abigail. "Arcimboldo's Feast for the Eyes." January 01, 2011. Accessed December 03, 2018.