Exhibition: La grande bouffe : peintures comiques dans l’Italie de la Renaissance
Date: October 28, 2017 – March, 11, 2018
Venue: The Musée Saint Léger in Soissons, France.
(1527 – 1593)
Son of the artist Biagio Arcimboldo and Chiara Parisi, Giuseppe Arcimboldo was born in Milan in 1527. Of noble descent, Arcimboldo‘s family originated from the south of Germany, with some family members relocating to Lombardy during the Middle Ages.
Numerous variations of the spelling of the family name can be found: Acimboldi, Arisnbodle, Arcsimbaldo, Arzimbaldo, or Arczimboldo; the ‘boldo’ or ‘baldo’ suffix is a mediaeval Germanic derivative. Likewise, Arcimboldo signed his first name in several different ways: Giuseppe, Josephus, Joseph, or Josepho are some of the examples that can be found.
In his work La noblità di Milano (1619), Paulo Morigi charted the history of Arcimboldo‘s family and confirmed his nobility, despite very uncertain sources, by tracing his roots back to the time of Charlemagne, when a nobleman named Sigfrid Arcimboldo served in the court of the Emperor. Out of sixteen Arcimboldo children, three were knighted and one amongst them settled in Lombardy. This is how the Italian branch of the family came to be founded. To support his claims, Morigi declared that his narrative came directly from Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a trustworthy gentleman with a respectable lifestyle.
Also in La noblità di Milano, Morigi continued to develop the history of the Arcimboldo family, although limiting this to the Italian branch residing in Milan. He stated that the widower Guido Antonio Arcimboldo, Giuseppe’s great-great-grandfather, was elected Archbishop of Milan in 1489, succeeding his deceased brother, Giovanni Arcimboldo. Between 1550 and 1555, Giovanni Angelo Arcimboldo, illegitimate son of Guido Antonio, reigned as Archbishop of Milan. He advised Giuseppe and steered him through the politics of the artists, humanists, and writers of the Milanese Court.
In Milan, Arcimboldo received training from his father in the arts, and also from artists of the Lombard School, such as Giuseppe Meda (active in Milan from 1551 to 1559) and Bernardino Campi (1522-1591), a distinguished painter from Cremona.
A certain artistic and scientific fascination for Leonardo da Vinci has been perceived in Arcimboldo‘s art. In fact, Giuseppe’s father, Biagio, had the good fortune to be friends with Bernardino Luini, a student of Leonardo da Vinci’s, who, after da Vinci’s death, inherited several of his master’s workbooks and sketches. Biagio Arcimboldo certainly studied these and, years later, taught da Vinci’s artistic and scientific style to his son Giuseppe.
The Italian artists Biagio, Meda, and Campi were in contact with German artists, either working on commissions for the Milan Cathedral or creating tapestries for the Medici family. According to the Milan Cathedral archives, Arcimboldo was established as a master in 1549, working with his father in the painting and creation of sketches for the stained glass windows, organ doors, and canopy of the Cathedral’s altar. The most important stained glass windows, located within the apse, depict the Tales of the Life of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The Christian legend deals with the martyrdom of Catherine, who refused to renounce her Christian faith for pagan gods. The decoration of these scenes was relatively elaborate, based on a combination of classic themes (amphorae, garlands, and cherubs) and Christian symbols (thrones, scallop shells, and ceremonial ornaments).
The architectural and ornamental concepts reflected the illusion of art and a mannerist taste. These forms also demonstrated Leonardo da Vinci’s influence on Arcimboldo, gained through the art of Milanese artist Gaudenzio Ferrari (1471-1546), who also worked on the Cathedral’s stained glass windows. A document from the archives of the Milan Cathedral, dated 1556, mentions that Arcimboldo‘s sketches for the Cathedral project were transposed onto glass by Corrado de Mochis, a master glazier from Cologne. During this period, Arcimboldo painted five emblematic insignias (today, lost) for Ferdinand, King of Bohemia, later Ferdinand I, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.
After the death of his father in 1551, Arcimboldo continued to work in Lombardy until 1558, after which time he undertook travels to Como and Monza. He created sketches of Old and New Testament themes for tapestries for the Como Cathedral. Flemish artists Johannes and Ludwig Karcher (active from 1517-1561), employed by the Gobelins Tapestry Manufactory, created a tapestry from these sketches.
The names of the weavers appear on a scroll on the tapestry. Arcimboldo created eight scenes, sumptuously embellished with borders festooned with flowers, fruit, scrolls, and classical-style grotesques (grotteschi), such as can be seen in Death of the Virgin. In a private garden, in which the architecture echoes the styles of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Virgin rests in a casket surrounded by the mourning apostles, whilst the Santa Maria della Grazie Church can be seen in the background…
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