The Librarian Giuseppe Arcimboldo Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The Librarian is one of the early works executed immediately after Arcimboldo arrived at the Habsburg court in Prague. The portrait is part of a series of art work made as a divertissement in the early 1560s representing the Emperor's entourage members.

Other paintings that correspond to the amazing portrait are The Lawyer and The Chef. The artistry work is currently in Sweden.


The Librarian is an impeccable painting of a gentleman skillfully constructed from a pile of books. It's definitely an icon in the pictorial history of the library as a profession. The portrait is believed to be a painting of Wolfgang Lazius, a historian and humanist who served Holy Roman.

Giuseppe made several portraits of people by portraying an assemblage of objects like flowers, fruits and vegetables, or books in The Librarian case. The objects seemed to be connected to the one’s life. Geiger referred to it as a 'triumph of abstract.' In 1957, Sven Alfons, an art historian, resolved that the Librarian reflected the personality of Lazius.

Though the work was interpreted as a celebration and satirical mocking of scholarships and librarians, K.C. Elhard has a contrary opinion that it may be a parody of ‘greedy book collectors interested in collecting books and not reading them.’ He also notes missing pointers relating to the library profession, precisely classification marks. And this leads to his argument that the portrait focuses more on selfish qualities rather than the subject matter, which points to collectors and not intellectuals or librarians.

Style and Technique

Arcimboldo is known for his creativity in associating objects like flowers to someone’s life. Several of his works prove that he was great at this. He created The Librarian in oils and canvas, bringing out a clever construction of a man from books. The arrangement of the books is particularly impressive as you can notice a man who seems to be holding books just by a glance. Besides, several pages of a book at the bottom seemed to have been used to represent the man’s fingers.

Influences and Inspirations

Giuseppe was born a son of an artist and was trained perfectly while learning to paint religious scenes. The scenes were in the formal and perfection-obsessed style of the Renaissance. Even after his return to Milan in 1587, Arcimboldo maintained his connections to the Hapsburgs as he continued to paint for them. Many great artists were influenced by Arcimboldo and his creative work. Some chose his path in imaginative portraits from objects. His influence in art is felt even today.

The Librarian in Detail Giuseppe Arcimboldo