“Emperor Rudolf II was obsessed with seeking the means to Immortality.”
The Riddle of Prague, Chapter Fifteen
From Elizabeth Weston’s letter to her daughter in The Riddle of Prague
He was the Holy Roman Emperor. He was the King of Hungary and Croatia and Bohemia. His moved his court to Prague and turned the Castle into the capitol of Art & Science & Learning. The esteemed astronomers, philosophers and physicians that flocked to his court believed in what they called “natural magicke”.
They believed in the possibility of Immortality.
Arcimbaldo, an Italian painter, depicted Rudolf II as Vertumnus, the god of transformation.
If looking you do not admire the ugliness that makes me beautiful;
You know well how ugliness can surpass any beauty
Different am I from myself…
Harken your ear
So that I can confide there
a secret of a new art.
Gregorio Comanini wrote the poem to accompany the portrait.
What was the “new art” that transformed the Emperor into something different? Could Arcimboldo’s painting be a celebration of Rudolf II’s ultimate triumph over his own mortality?