There are two known versions of this composition that depict the head of Herod by the Rudolfine court painter Arcimboldo: one formerly in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein, now in the Cardazzo collection, Venice and one in the Poletta collection, Brescia.1
A third version, which was once attributed to Arcimboldo, but is now thought to be a seventeenth century copy possibly based on a now lost original, is also in the Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck.2
Although each version has different depictions of Herod the Great (74/73 BC-4BC), the King of Judea, one factor is consistent: his portrait is made up of nude bodies, symbolizing the innocent people he massacred according to Christian Gospel of Matthew.
The far reaching influence of Arcimboldo spanned into the 18th century as seen in the present lot, through which his originality lives on. The author of this innovative representation of Herod was clearly aware of Arcimboldo's work, and its core influence is indeed that of the Milanese inventor of this anthropomorphic type.
1. B. Geiger, 'I Dipinti Ghiribizzosi di Giuseppe Arcimboldi: Pittore Illusinista del Cinquecento (1527-1593),' Florence 1954, p. 67, reproduced figs. 82 and 83.
2. Ibid., fig. 81.