Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Rudolf II as Vertumnus

by Alexandra Tuschka


Whether Rudolf II really had a pear nose and a mouth made of cherries is questionable. Compared to other portraits, there is not even a particularly strong resemblance between the sitters. To compose the ruler from various plant objects - Arcimboldo did not have such an easy task ahead of him. He skillfully emphasized the typical identifying features of Rudolf II: bags under his eyes, a beard, and a full head of hair.


Only a few years before his death, the Italian painter Guiseppe Arcimboldo was commissioned to capture the often portrayed Rudolf II on canvas. Arcimboldo was ordered to the Viennese court by Rudolf's father in 1562. Unfortunately, the ruler died shortly thereafter. However, an intimate friendship developed between the painter and Rudolf's son. In this famous work, the painter depicts him as the ancient god Vertumnus, the god of seasons, inexhaustible change and agriculture. To realize this, he has composed the face of the ruler from all kinds of plants, flowers and fruits. These are from different seasons and thus symbolize the eternal cycle of life.


The painting, however, was not meant to hang alone but was flanked by numerous other allegory paintings that Rudolf commissioned from the painter.


Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Rudolf II as Vertumnus

Oil on canvas, c. 1590, 68 x 56 cm, Skoklosters Slott in Habo


Joseph Heintz the Elder. - Portrait of Rudolf II.

Oil on copper, 1594, 16.2 x12.7 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna