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  • Writer's pictureSteven Heller

Giovanni Battista Bracelli’s Modern Prescience

Those old guys stole our best ideas. The Florentine Giovanni Battista Bracelli (1616–1649) was an Italian engraver and painter of the Baroque period. His extraordinarily modernistic book of prints Bizzarie di Varie Figure, published in 1624, depicts a variety of human figures cleverly, if eccentrically, formed from variety of objects. (Some of the figures are composed of boxes, racquets and curlicues.) The work prefigures the much later 20th-century cubist and surrealist experiments. Bracelli also hints at robotics and AI. His work recalls the fantastical and dreamlike assemblages of Arcimboldo. And whether contemporary conceptual illustrators know Bracelli or not, he is their great-grandfather in the art world of the absurd. Simply stunning!

The British Museum notes: “The set of fifty etchings was published by Bracelli himself in Livorno in 1624 with a dedication to Pietro Medici. Sets are excessively rare: the only complete one is in the Library of Congress (Rosenwald collection, whence the numbering of the plates is derived), and eight incomplete sets are listed by Alain Brieux (‘Bracelli – Bizarrie’, Paris 1963). The BM only has 32 of the plates, that were presented in two groups by Dodgson in 1910 and 1928. The series was ‘rediscovered’ by Tristan Tzara, and the first modern essay was published by Kenneth Clark in ‘Print Collectors’ Quarterly’ in October 1929, pp.310-26.”

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