Giovanni Ambrogio Maggiore

(c. 1550—1598)

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(b ?Milan, c. 1550; d ?Rome, after 1 Feb 1598). Italian turner of ivory and wood, active in Bavaria. He or his brother, Dionigi Maggiore, with whom he worked for a while, succeeded in making a rotary lathe that was capable of producing not only the usual round turnings but also oblique forms. Little is known of the early stages of this invention; possibly the brothers based it on a project (now untraced) by Leonardo da Vinci. In 1573 a Milanese art dealer, Prospero Visconti, brought Maggiore to the attention of Crown Prince William, later William V, Duke of Bavaria (reg 1579–98), as an ‘insignis faber’ (noted craftsman) who knew how to turn oval frames. The Prince, who was interested in the discovery, brought Maggiore to Bavaria to work and to teach the new technique. In Munich, Maggiore passed on the technique to his pupils, and as early as 1576 Georg Wecker (fl 1575–1610), son of the court turner Hans Wecker (d 1577), took a new lathe and the new techniques to Saxony, leading to the development of the Dresden school of ivory turning. As a result of Prince William's unstable financial position, however, Maggiore received only temporary appointments, at the princely residence at Landshut and later in Munich. On New Year's Day 1575 Prince William presented his sister in Graz with one of the first examples of artistic turning; a small oval ivory box (Munich, Bayer. Nmus.) with portraits in tapestry of two of the Prince's children, it is dated 1576. In 1579 William was godfather to one of Maggiore's children. In 1582 William sent to the Medici in Florence a Kontrafetkugel (a turned series of nested ivory balls or other items, similar to ‘Chinese balls’) by Maggiore (Florence, Pitti; see fig.), which was set up in the Tribuna of the Uffizi. In 1585 Philip II of Spain acquired a similar piece (untraced). A stacking box ascribed to Maggiore, painted by Joris Hoefnagel and dated 1586 (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.), survives, as does a similar piece (Stockholm, Kun. Husgerådskam.), undated but certainly made before 1590, when the miniaturist left the court in Munich. Little is known of the later life of Maggiore. From Milan, he thanked William for a gift in 1593, and in 1595 Paolo Morigi praised him as a successful Milanese artist. In 1597 Grand Duke Ferdinand I de’ Medici recommended Maggiore, ‘il sordo delli ovati’, to Rome, where he was still working on commissions for the Medici court in Florence by 1 February 1598.

From The Grove Encyclopedia of Northern Renaissance Art in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Renaissance Art.

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