Art History’s Best Mustaches: Rudolph II Rocks a Bok Choy ‘Stache in Famous Arcimboldo Portrait


As we reach the midway point in our month-long series highlighting exceptional art historical mustaches — in observance of the male cancer awareness initiative Movember — it occurs to us that we’ve never highlighted the work of biomorphic still life master Giuseppe Arcimboldo, an oversight we decided to rectify immediately. Luckily one of Arcimboldo’s most famous paintings, his 1590 portrait of Rudolf II of Hapsburg, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, as a handsome pile of comestibles, features a rather elegant little bullet head mustache made of what we can only surmise is some kind of 16th century precursor to bok choy.

The painting, which was commissioned by Rudolph II and now sits in Skokloster Castle in Sweden, portrays the Holy Roman Emperor as a plentiful cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, and grains from various parts of Europe, thereby implying that his rule will bring not only unity but also bountiful harvests to the empire’s territories throughout Europe. His rule was certainly a blessing for many artists; Rudolph II was a great patron of the arts, and commissioned works by many of the most celebrated artists of the period, including more conventional portraits by Hans von Aachen, Adrian de Vries, Joseph Heintz the Elder, and more. Arcimboldo’s likeness of the the emperor, for obvious reasons, remains the most famous.

Though relatively little is known of Arcimboldo’s origins — except that he was born in Milan, where he would die three years after this painting was completed — he did serve as a court painter to Rudolph II as well as both of his predecessors, Ferdinand I, Maximilian II.


— Benjamin Sutton (@bhsutton)

(Image: Giuseppe Arcimboldo, “Rudolf II of Habsburg as Vertumnus,” 1590. Courtesy Skokloster Castle. Via Wikimedia Commons.)