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Giuseppe Arcimboldo | Slightly Off Cemter Painter of Fancy

Water by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo
 1563-64, Oil on wood, 66,5 x 50,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

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Italian Renaissance Mannerist artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) (pronounced Gew-seppy Arc-em-boldo) was a court painter and imperial party-planner to several sixteenth-century Italian emperors: Ferdinand I, Maximilian II, and Rudolf II. Giuseppe Arcimboldo was probably a student of Leonardo da Vinci.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo owes his reputation to the series of composite portraits of heads made up of a variety of objects, both natural and man-made. Most of these paintings were created at the court of Rudolf II, who hired Giuseppe as his court painter, placing him at the center of Rudolf's eccentric menagerie of artists, scientists and charlatans.

Arcimboldo's job included the task of endlessly copying portraits for the imperial family, and other heads of state. In the sixteenth century every painting had to be copied by hand. Just as they had to copy every book by hand. It was during the endless hours spent in his studio that Giuseppe came up with the style of painting that would forever separate him from the other painters of his day.

The Composite Head

Giuseppe Arcimboldo began to paint portraits of people not as we see them, but with rendered clumps of mammals, fish, vegetables and other natural objects. Instead of a nose, you might see an elephant, instead of an ear, you might see a pelican or alligator. To this new style Giuseppe Arcimboldo applied his great talent and style.

Brenda Harness, Art Historian


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