The Vegetable Gardener...

Arcimboldo's Tasty Illusions

With vegetables, fruit, fish, and other foods, the 16th-century painter created witty ― and eerie ― portraits.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (b. 1526 or 1527, d. 1593) was an Italian painter who, like fellow artists M.C. Escher, Salvador Dali, and others, delighted in creating detailed and often gorgeous optical illusions. In Arcimboldo's case, art critics and historians argue to this day about why his portraits of human "heads" made from flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, and other foods have survived for centuries, while so many other artists from his era have been forgotten. Our semi-educated guess? Arcimboldo's work is a lot more fun to look at than paintings by most of those other guys. See for yourself.

"Reversible Head With Basket of Fruit," 1590. GraphicaArtis/Getty Images "Reversible Head With Basket of Fruit," 1590. "Fire," 1566. Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images "Fire," 1566. "Four Seasons in One Head," c. 1590. GraphicaArtis/Getty Images "Four Seasons in One Head," c. 1590. "Spring," 1573. Heritage Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images "Spring," 1573. "Summer," 1563. Heritage Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images "Summer," 1563. "Autumn," 1573. Imagno/Getty Images "Autumn," 1573. "Winter," 1573. Imagno/Getty Images "Winter," 1573. "The Librarian," 1566. Heritage Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images "The Librarian," 1566. "The Jurist," 1566. Imagno/Getty Images "The Jurist," 1566. "Earth," 1570. Imagno/Getty Images "Earth," 1570. "Water," 1566. Imagno/Getty Images "Water," 1566. "Flora," 1591. Imagno/Getty Images "Flora," 1591. Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II re-imagined as a Roman god, Vertumnus, c. 1590. Imagno/Getty Images Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II re-imagined as a Roman god, Vertumnus, c. 1590. Self-portrait, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, c. 1575. Heritage Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images Self-portrait, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, c. 1575.