Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Style: Mannerism

Lived: 1527 - July 11, 1593 (16th century)

Nationality: Italy

Giuseppe Arcimboldo was born in Milan in the year 1527. He was part of a rich and important family, including some important archbishops. His career started in the glass workshops of the Milan Cathedral.

From 1562 on, Giuseppe Arcimboldo started working at the Hapsburg imperial court of Ferdinand I. It was here that he created the paintings that he is so well known for. Almost immediately his original fantasy was unleashed. He invented a portrait type consisting of painted animals, flowers, fruit, and objects composed to form a human resemblance. Some are satiric portraits of court personages, others are allegorical personifications.

Arcimboldo's style has been so often imitated over the centuries that it is sometimes difficult to make exact attributions. Some see him as the forerunner of Surrealism in the 20th century, but he should be seen in his own context at the end of the Renaissance. In this time people (collectors and scientists alike) were beginning to pay more attention to nature. Arcimboldo really created the fantastic image of the court in Prague, creating costumes, set designs, and decorations. Emperor Rudolf II gave him countless commissions for paintings and set him the task of researching and buying works of art and natural curiosities as well. In 1587 Arcimboldo returned to Milan but stayed in contact with the Emperor.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo died July 11, 1593 in Milan. Although he was extremely famous during his lifetime, he was soon forgotten after his death. We do not know why people lost interest in his art. Perhaps he was misunderstood by the generations that followed. The interest to his abstruse and fantastic pictures, of which we only have a very few originals, nowadays, did revive at the end of the 19th century. Apart from the fantastic pictures, he probably painted quite a few more traditional ones. But many of these, too, seem to have disappeared.

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