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The Great Artist Who Dared to Paint The Roman Emperor as a heap of fruits in his Court

Born in 1526 in Italy, artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo was best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books. Giuseppe's father, Biagio Arcimboldo, was an artist from Milan. Like his father, Giuseppe Arcimboldo started his career as a designer for stained glass and frescoes at local cathedrals when he was 21 years old. In 1562, he became a court portraiture artist to Ferdinand I at the Habsburg court in Vienna, Austria and later, to Maximilian II and his son Rudolf II at the court in Prague. And during Giuseppe’s stint at Rudolf II in 1590, an amusing incident took place. He painted his royal patron, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, as a heap of fruits and vegetables (opposite). With pea pod eyelids and a gourd for a forehead, he looked less like a king and more like a crudité platter. Now, during the Renaissance, the court portraiture artist's task was to paint the likeness of his king for the Palace display and to give as gifts to foreign dignitaries or prospective brides. In other words, the portraits had to resemble the Emperor and in a pleasing and flattering way. Yet in 1590, Giuseppe Arcimboldo dared to paint him differently.

Luckily for Arcimboldo, the emperor Rudolf II had a sense of humor and instead of the death penalty, Arcimboldo was appreciated for his master piece. Later Arcimboldo served the Hapsburg family for more than 25 years, creating oddball “composite heads” made of sea creatures, flowers, dinner roasts and other materials During his life, Giuseppe Arcimboldo produced many works of art on religious subjects, but he is most well-known for his portraits of people made up of fruit, vegetables and other objects from nature.From a distance, these portraits look like regular portraits of human beings, but on looking closely, one can see that they are constructed from cleverly painted objects. The paintings are as much still life as they are portraits.

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