Whoever you may be, when you behold
This odd, misshapen picture which is me
And there is laughter on your lips
Your eyes are flashing with hilarity,
And your whole face is seized by mirth
As you discover yet another monstrous detail
In him who bears the name Vertumnus,
Being thus called in poems of the ancients
And by Apollo’s learned sons;
Unless you clearly see that ugliness
Which makes me beautiful,
You cannot know that there’s a certain
Ugliness more beautiful than any beauty.
There’s diversity within me,
Though despite my diverse aspect, I am one.
That diversity of mine
Renders faithfully and truly
Diverse things just as they are.
Raise your eyebrows now and frown,
Listen hard with concentration,
Lend your ear to what I say
That I may entrust you, friend,
With the secret of new art.
Excerpt from Don Gregorio Comanini’s poem on the Giuseppe Arcimboldo painting of Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus, the Roman god of vegitationa and transformation. The portrait was a gift to the emperor after Acrimboldo left Prague to return to his native Milan in 1587.