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The Extraordinary Nature of Illusion

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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DOI: 10.3201/eid1411.000000
  • About The Cover
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Letters.indd ABOUT THE COVER “When our fi rst encounter with some object surpris-es us and we fi nd it novel or very different from what we formerly knew or from what we supposed it ought to be, this causes us to wonder and be astonished at it,” wrote 17th-century philosopher René Descartes in his Pas- sions of the Soul. Indeed, astonishment awaits anyone who views for the fi rst time the work of Giuseppe Arcimboldi, Milanese painter extraordinaire, portraitist of emperors, and master of illusion (1). Arcimboldi grew up in a distinguished family. He as- sociated with philosophers and other scholars and knew the son of Bernardino Luini, a student of Leonardo, who had notes and sketchbooks given to him when the master left Milan, site of most of his experiments (2). In writing about the family, historian Paolo Morigia described Giuseppe as “a trustworthy gentleman with an impeccable lifestyle,” who started his artistic career at age 22 designing tapes- try and stained glass with his father, also an artist (3). This early work at Milan Cathedral already contained elements found in his unique later style. In the beginning of the 16th century, partly because of a plague epidemic, Milan’s position as leader in the arts was declining. Nonetheless, Arcimboldi’s reputation was strong. “This is a painter with a rare talent, who is also ex- tremely knowledgeable in other disciplines,” wrote Mori- gia about Arcimboldi’s acceptance of the invitation of Em- peror Ferdinand I to go to Prague. “And having proved his worth as an artist and as a bizarre painter, not only in his own country but also abroad, he has been given the highest praise” (3). Arcimboldi fl ourished during his tenure with Ferdi- nand. “He was liked and treated well and received with great kindness, and the Emperor gave him a good salary worthy of his merits” (3). He came to know the works of such greats as Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Bruegel the Elder, and Albrecht Altdorfer. He painted portraits of the imp

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