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Giuseppe Arcimboldo

(c. 1527—1593)


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(b ?Milan, c.1527; d Milan, 11 July 1593).

Milanese painter and designer, famous for his allegorical or symbolical ‘portraits’ in which he arranged objects such as fruits and vegetables into the form of the human face. He began his career as a designer of stained-glass windows for Milan Cathedral, and subsequently worked on frescos and tapestries for the cathedrals of Monza and Como. However, he then changed course: from 1562 to 1587 he was employed successively by the emperors Ferdinand I, Maximilian II, and Rudolf II (see Habsburg), first in Vienna and then in Prague, and nothing in his previous work anticipates the bizarre heads he produced for them. A typical example is Rudolf II as Vertumnus (c.1590, Skoklosters Castle, Sweden), showing the emperor as the Roman god of orchards, his head composed of fruit, flowers, and so on. Arcimboldo returned to Milan in 1587. His paintings were much imitated in his lifetime, but thereafter they were generally regarded merely as curiosities until the Surrealists revived interest in ‘visual punning’.

Subjects: Art.


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