Jed Perl on Giuseppe Arcimboldo and Franz Xaver Messerschmidt

From The New Republic:

Arcimboldo When artists of earlier eras become subjects of renewed interest, you can be sure that big changes are in the air. All too often relegated to specialized studies in the history of taste, such shifts in an artist’s fortunes are among our most reliable guides to current attitudes and values, a look into the dark glass of the past that can also function as a mirror in which we see reflected some aspect of ourselves. There is certainly as much to be learned about the present as about the past from two small and beautifully focused museum shows in recent months, one at the National Gallery in Washington devoted to the sixteenth-century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the other at the Neue Galerie in New York devoted to the eighteenth-century German sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt.

While the revival of interest in both these artists began a century ago, the impact that Arcimboldo and Messerschmidt are now having, among artists and art historians, is on a scale unknown a generation earlier. Both Arcimboldo and Messerschmidt are in many respects confounding personalities, connoisseurs of strangeness and disquietude, administrators of shocks and surprises who were in search of a form that almost by definition violated the norm. Are they just what we need in our seen-it-all-done-it-all era? Or are they merely the latest sideshow at the funhouse that the art world has become?

More here.

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