Giuseppe Arcimboldo was famous for his strange paintings of human heads made up from fruits, vegetables and roots.
Arcimboldo (1527-1593) was born and worked with his father on traditional religious subjects in Milan, where Leonardo da Vinci had realized most of his experiments. The Milanese artists learned still-life painting from the bread, fish and glasses of water in "The Last Supper". Arcimboldo venerated his famous predecessor, and he strived to become the Habsburgs' Leonardo. He probably heard about Leonardo's science, as he even stated to have discovered a way to cross rivers where there were no bridges, which was the old master's idea. Leonardo moved from Florence to shine at the Milanese court, so Arcimboldo left Milan for the court of Maximilian II in Vienna. The emperor loved to have foreign artists at his court, where Arcimboldo became a designer of fantastic costumes and settings for tournaments, and creator of bizarre heads.
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Art critics debate whether these paintings were whimsical or the product of a deranged mind. May be those nightmarrish images came from lighthearted caricature drawing?
In Renaissance Europe the rulers supported the first scientists along with alchemists, cabalists and hermetic philosophers. The passion for weirdness didn't let pass the Habsburg court in Vienna. Probably, the first medivian scientist was Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250), who conducted his own experiments by sealing a man in a barrel and having observers to watch if his soul rose up when he died. Frederick's successors supported conjurers and freaks alongside the great astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, who created the Rudolphine Tables, a star catalogue and planetary tables, named after their patron, the Habsburg Emperor Rudolph II. Arcimboldo also was employed by Rudolph, the son of Maximilian II.
Arcimboldo's disturbing paintings made him famous, an icon.
After a decade of service, Rudolph II ennobled the artist with the title of Count Palatine of the Holy Roman Empire. Arcimboldo retired to Milan. There he worked on a portrait of Rudolph as the Etruscan rustic god Vertumnus. Rudolph II greatly admired his own portrait made up of vegetables and fruit. King Augustus of Saxony saw Arcimboldo's creations and ordered another set of "The Four Seasons" with the symbols of Augustus painted into the pictures.
In the 20th century the Surrealist movement recognised him as a forerunner. In 1937 his works were included in the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at New York's Museum of Modern Art.