Vertumnus, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

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Vertumnus, a portrait depicting Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor painted as Vertumnus, the Roman God of the seasons, c. 1590-1. Skokloster Castle, Sweden

Giuseppe Arcimboldo started his career as a designer for stained glass at local cathedrals at 21 years old. Later on he became a portraitist in Vienna. Augustus, Elector of Saxony, who visited Vienna in 1570 and 1573, saw Arcimboldo’s work and commissioned a copy of his “The Four Seasons” which has his own monarchic symbols. His portraits didn´t get any further, after that he started making his own paintings of portraits but with vegetables and fruit which got really famous, even now.

Arcimboldo died in Milan, where he had retired after leaving the Prague service. It was during this last phase of his career that he produced the portrait of Rudolph II, as well as his self-portrait as the Four Seasons. His Italian contemporaries honored him with poetry and manuscripts celebrating his illustrious career.

The painting “Vertumnus”

It is a portrait of Rudolf II imagining him as Vertumnus (a Roman god of metamorphoses): the fruits and vegetables symbolize the Golden age that had a great harvest.

The light focuses on Vertumnus’s face and the colourful flowers and food items contrast with the dark background giving the painting a three dimensional feature.

This bizarre way of creating heads from an assemblage of natural objects has made Arcimboldo a modern icon.

With the Discoveries in the 15th and 16 th centuries a variety of vegetables, spices and fruit were introduced, which made the European kitchen hungrier for more new tastes and flavors.

The vegetables were usually preserved in brine or vinegar. The most common vegetables were leeks, cauliflower, artichokes, spinach and chicory.




A Fifteenth Century ´s recipe

1 lb peas 2 1/2 c water 2 onions (total about 4 oz) 2 T parsley 1/2 t cinnamon 1/4 t pepper 1 T vinegar 1/4 t ginger 3 threads saffron 3/4 t salt 2 slices bread (about 2 oz)

Simmer peas in water for about 40 minutes. Mash the peas and the broth through a strainer. Add chopped onions, parsley, cinnamon, pepper. Boil for ten minutes. Add vinegar and ginger, salt and saffron. Chop up bread, put it in, boil briefly, serve.


To Make a Spinach Pie


20 oz spinach 1/4 lb butter 1 T sugar 1 t cinnamon 1/4 t mace 1/4 t salt 9″ pastry shell

Note: recipes for other pies in this book say “season it up with sugar and cinnamon and sweet butter” or also with mace or just with sugar and butter.

Parboil spinach 3 minutes, rinse in cold water, wring it dry. Fry 2-3 minutes in butter with spices. Cool. Fill shell and bake at 350deg. for 40 minutes.

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