The Tale of Despereaux & Giuseppe Arcimboldo – Seeing Double

Tale of Despereaux - plucky mouse Despereaux confronts Boldo the soup genie and André the royal chef

I caught up with the latest animated mouse movie The Tale of Despereaux recently. As rodent-themed cartoon flicks go, Despereaux isn’t in the same league as the brilliant Oscar-winning Ratatouille, but it does boast a number of inventive and entertaining moments. My favourite was the playful tribute to the 16th-century Italian Mannerist painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo in the character of the film’s ‘Soup Genie’ Boldo (he’s the veg-head on the left in the picture above).

It was good to be reminded of Arcimboldo’s bizarre genius. Best known for creating seriously weird portraits from artfully placed fruit and veg, fish, books and anything else that caught his cunning eye, he appears to have invented surrealism over three centuries before the rest of Europe caught up.

Check out Boldo’s resemblance to Arcimboldo’s portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II as Vertumnus, the Roman god of fruitfulness. The painting’s usual home is in Skokloster Castle in Sweden, but if you hurry you can catch sight of it in the superb exhibition Renaissance Faces, which runs at the National Gallery in London until January 18th.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II as Vertumnus

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