Assemblage originally became a term with special meaning in the visual arts, denoting a type of artwork: Collages with plastic objects attached to a base plate. This creates works of art with a relief-like surface. Three-dimensional objects can also be called assemblages. The term is also used as an analogy in other fields, for example in postmodern philosophy.
In painting, the principle of assemblage was already anticipated in the 16th century by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who arranged flowers, fruits or vegetables, but also inorganic objects such as books into surprising portraits or still lifes in his paintings. An early form of assemblage is the technique of trencadís, popular in Modernist architecture (Art Nouveau in Catalonia), in which large fragments of ceramic tiles, marble or shards of crockery and bottles are formed into mostly abstract motifs.
In sculpture, Auguste Rodin in particular introduced the technique of assemblage as an innovative working method from around 1895. The artist created a reservoir of casts, reductions and enlargements of already created works, from which he was able to develop new contexts of meaning by recombining bodies, heads, arms, legs and other sculptural elements.
Later, but before the art historical establishment of the term, artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Louise Nevelson, Wolfgang Paalen, Raoul Hausmann, Johannes Baader, Max Ernst and Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven worked with the combination of pre-formed natural or manufactured materials, objects or fragments.