I was wondering if there exists a term that describes the practice of using objects to depict other objects.

To give an example:

In the painting "The Librarian", Arcimboldo uses books to depict a person. So the artist uses objects (books) to depict something entirely different (a person).


enter image description here

  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about art historical terminology. Terminology questions are fine if they can clarify a creative process, but this seems to have nothing to do with creating things.
    – Joachim
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 18:48
  • 3
    @Joachim I guess I don't see the difference between this terminology question and our other technique or style identification terminology questions. The example might be a historical piece, but it's not merely a history or appreciation trivia. If you want to learn about a technique, it's generally fundamental to learn what it's called, first.
    – user24
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 14:22
  • @WebHead You're right. I think that my decision was informed by both Arcimboldo's painting and the lack of any indication of artistic usage or usefulness. Vote retracted. (Also, it's Dwight).
    – Joachim
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 15:10

1 Answer 1



Pareidolia is the tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music.

source: Wikipedia

There are many examples on the internet beyond Arcimboldo, just look for Pareidolia in art.

enter image description here

Women Forming A Skull By Salvador Dali

  • I don't think this is Pareidolia as there is nothing vague about what Arcimboldo is doing. It is not interpretive or hidden. He is purposely constructing, in a sculptural manner (he was a Mannerist after all), the figures in the paintings using inanimate objects. His work is considered unique, and the closest thing I found to a name for them is "double-meaning" paintings.
    – rebusB
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 20:08

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