Arcimboldo, The Librarian (c. 1566)

I was fourteen years old when I first encountered the composite heads of the Milanese mannerist Giuseppe Arcimboldo at the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna. After passing what seemed like an eternity in galleries populated by religious scenes and unfamiliar margraves, coming across Arcimboldo’s anthropomorphic amalgamations of objects, vegetables, and animals was a welcome delight. “Weird!” and “cool!” was my verdict then, and it stayed that way—precisely that way—for many years: a witty, queer, and talented crowd pleaser, I thought, and that’s about it.

For at...


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