Arcimboldo speaks double language, at the same time obvious and obfuscatory; he creates "mumbling" and "gibberish", but these inventions remain quite rational. Generally, the only whim (bizarrerie) which isn't afforded by Arcimboldo — he doesn't create language absolutely unclear … his art not madly.
Arcimboldo is known as a 16th-century Mannerist. A transitional period from 1520 to 1590, Mannerism adopted some artistic elements from the High Renaissance and influenced other elements in the Baroque period. A Mannerist tended to show close relationships between human and nature. Arcimboldo also tried to show his appreciation of nature through his portraits. In The Spring, the human portrait was composed of only various spring flowers and plants. From the hat to the neck, every part of the portrait, even the lips and nose, was composed of flowers, while the body was composed of plants. On the other hand, in The Winter, the human was composed mostly of roots of trees. Some leaves from evergreen trees and the branches of other trees became hair, while a straw mat became the costume of the human portrait.
In 1562, he became court portraitist to Ferdinand I at the Habsburg court in Vienna, Austria and later, to Maximilian II and his son Rudolf II at the court in Prague. He was also the court decorator and costume designer. Augustus, Elector of Saxony, who visited Vienna in 1570 and 1573, saw Arcimboldo's work and commissioned a copy of his The Four Seasons which incorporates his own monarchic symbols.
When the Swedish army invaded Prague in 1648, during the Thirty Years' War, many of Arcimboldo's paintings were taken from Rudolf II's collection.
Archimboldo's relation with surrealism was emphasized at landmark exhibitions in New York ("Fantastic art, dada, surrealism", 1937) and in Venice ("Arcimboldo's Effect: Evolution of the person in painting from the XVI century", Palazzo Grassi, 1987) where Arcimboldo's allegories were presented. The largest encyclopedic exhibition of Arcimboldo's heritage, where about 150 of his works were presented, including graphics, was held in Vienna in 2008. In spite of the fact that very few works of Arcimboldo are available in the art market, their auction cost is in the range of five to 10 million dollars. Experts note that it is very modest for an Artist at such a level of popularity.
With the advent of surrealism its theorists paid attention to the formal work of Arcimboldo, and in the first half of the 20th century many articles were devoted to his heritage. Gustav Hocke [de] drew parallels between Arcimboldo, Salvador Dalí, and Max Ernst's works. A volume monograph of B. Geyger and the book by F. Legrand and F. Xu were published in 1954.
Arcimboldo's classification as mannerist also belongs to the 20th century. Its justification contains in Gustav Rehn Hok's work The world as a Labyrinth, published in 1957. Arcimboldo was born in the late Renaissance, and his first works were done in a traditional Renaissance manner. In Hok's opinion, during the Renaissance era the Artist had to be first of all the talented handicraftsman who skillfully imitated the nature, as the idea of fine art was based on its studying. Mannerism differed from the Renaissance art in attraction to "not naturalistic abstraction". It was a continuation of artistic innovation in the late Middle Ages—art embodying ideas. According to G. Hok, in consciousness there is concetto—the concept of a picture or a picture of the concept, an intellectual prototype. Arcimboldo, making a start from concetti, painted metaphorical and fantastic pictures, extremely typical for manneristic art. In On Ugliness, which was published under Umberto Eco's edition, Arcimboldo also admitted belonging to manneristic tradition for which "...the preference for aspiration to strange, extravagant and shapeless over expressional fine" is peculiar.
In 1976, the Spanish Sculptor Miguel Berrocal created the original bronze sculpture interlocking in 20 elements titled Opus 144 ARCIMBOLDO BIG as a direct homage to the Italian Painter. This first work was followed by the limited-edition sculpture in 1000 copies titled Opus 167 OMAGGIO AD ARCIMBOLDO (HOMAGE TO ARCIMBOLDO) of 1976–79 consisting of 30 interlocking elements.
His painting Water was used as the cover of the album Masque by the progressive rock band Kansas, and was also shown on the cover of the 1977 Paladin edition of Thomas Szasz's The Myth of Mental Illness.
Since 1978 T. DaCosta Kaufmann was engaged in Arcimboldo's heritage, and wrote of the Artist defended his dissertation "Variations on an imperial subject". His volume work, published in 2009, summed up the attitude of modern art critics towards Arcimboldo. An article published in 1980 by Roland Barthes was devoted to Arcimboldo's works.
The bizarre works of Arcimboldo, especially his multiple images and visual puns, were rediscovered in the early 20th century by Surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí. The exhibition entitled “The Arcimboldo Effect: Transformations of the face from the 16th to the 20th Century” at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice (1987) includes numerous 'double meaning' paintings. Arcimboldo's influence can also be seen in the work of Shigeo Fukuda, István Orosz, Octavio Ocampo and Sandro del Prete, as well as the films of Jan Švankmajer.
The 1992 novelette The Coming of Vertumnus by Ian Watson counterpoints the innate surrealism of the eponymous work against a drug-induced altered mental state.
The 'soup genie' character Boldo in the 2008 animated film The Tale of Despereaux, is composed of vegetables.
A detail from Flora was used on the cover of the 2009 album Bonfires on the Heath by The Clientele.
In the work Arcimboldo and archimboldesk, F. Legrand and F. Xu tried to reconstruct philosophical views of the Artist. They came to a conclusion that the views represented a kind of Platonic pantheism. The key to reconstruction of Arcimboldo's outlook seemed to them to be in the symbolism of court celebrations staged by the Artist, and in his allegorical series. According to Plato's dialogues "Timaeus", an immemorial god created the Universe from chaos by a combination of four elements — fire, water, air and the earth, as defines all-encompassing unity. In T. Dakosta Kauffman's works serious interpretation of heritage of Arcimboldo in the context of culture of the 16th century is carried out consistently. Kauffman in general was skeptical about attribution of works by Arcimboldo, and recognized as undoubted originals only four pictures, those with a signature of the Artist. He based the interpretation on the text of the unpublished poem by J. Fonteo "The picture Seasons and Four Elements of the imperial Artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo". According to Fonteo, the allegorical cycles of Arcimboldo transfer idea of greatness of the Emperor. The harmony in which fruits and animals are combined into images of the human head symbolizes harmony of the empire under the good board of the Habsburgs. Images of seasons and elements are always presented in profile, but thus Winter and Water, Spring and Air, Summer and Fire, Fall and Earth are turned to each other. In each cycle symmetry is also observed: two heads look to the right, and two — to the left. Seasons alternate in an invariable order, symbolizing both constancy of the nature and eternity of board of the Habsburgs' house. The political symbolics also hints at it: at the image of Air there are Habsburg symbols — a peacock and an eagle and Fire is decorated with a chain of the Award of the Golden Fleece, a great master of which by tradition was a head of a reigning dynasty. However it is made of flints and shod steel. Guns also point to the aggressive beginning. The Habsburg symbolics is present in the picture Earth, where the lion's skin designates a heraldic sign of Bohemia. Pearls and corals similar to cervine horns in Water hint at the same.
After a portrait was released to the public, some scholars, who had a close relationship with the book culture at that time, argued that the portrait ridiculed their scholarship. In fact, Arcimboldo criticized rich people’s misbehavior and showed others what happened at that time through his art. In The Librarian, although the painting might have appeared ridiculous, it also contained a criticism of wealthy people who collected books only to own them, rather than to read them.