Edited by Enrico Cortona

This unique etching, impeccably preserved, was known until today in a single version preserved in New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and published in Venice by the printer Giacomo Dini (fig. 1)1.

The II State (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art) with Giacomo Dini’s address.
Fig 1. After Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Humani Victus Instrumenta – Agriculture. Second state with Giacomo Dini’s address. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Comparing the MET's print, which is trimmed and lacks the second external border, to our sheet reveals that it is actually a second state. Whereas the work presented here includes the entire engraving, and it is the only known proof with the publisher's address Francesco Camocio who was active in Venice between 1552 and 15752.

Camocio published a second print also part, like this one, of the series Tools for the support of man depicting Kitchen Utensils(fig. 2). Both the prints probably derive from a pair of smaller etchings printed in Venice and dated respectively 1567 (Agriculture) and 1569 (Kitchen)3.

After Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Humani Victus Instrumenta – the Kitchen. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Fig. 2 After Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Humani Victus Instrumenta – the Kitchen. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The circumstances of the execution of the two pictorial prototypes of the prints are mentioned by Lomazzo in his Trattato dell’arte della pittura (1584):

Giuseppe Arcimboldi ... painted for the Emperor Maximilian... agriculture, composing it with all the Instruments of this art. The same did Carlo da Crema [Ed: here confused by Lomazzo with the painter from Crema, Giovanni da Monte, ], who painted the Kitchen with all his tools4.

According to this reconstruction, the two paintings, now lost, would have been executed during Arcimboldo’s cohabitation with Giovanni da Monte at the Habsburg court and before Giovanni’s return to Milan (1583)5, where he provided Lomazzo with the information reported in the Trattato6.

A variant of the etching here commented, almost identical but made from another copperplate, is in Boston (Museum of Fine Arts). Attributed to Nicolò Nelli and published by the Venetian typographer Luca Bertelli (active 1550-1580), it has been identified as a slightly enlarged copy of our exemplar7.

1 New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 1977.652.1 (cfr. New York 2011, p. 65, n. 45, ill.; entry by N. Orenstein).

2 Cosimo Palagiano, Camocio, Giovan Francesco, “Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani”, XVII (1974), ad vocem. Apparently the published died in 1574-75 during a plague.

3 Versions recorded in Venezia, Benno Geiger collection (Agriculture) and Copenaghen, Kunstindustriemuseet – Bildesamlingen (both versions): see. Geiger 1954, plate 37; Venice 1987, pp. 114-115, and Milano 2011, p. 232, n. 247. Another version of the Instruments of Kitchen is in Paris, Charles Ratton collection.

4 Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, Trattato dell’arte de la pittura, Milano 1584, pp. 349-350.

5Giovanni da Monte: un pittore da Crema all’Europa, Bergamo 1996, p. 15; Conti 2001, ad vocem.

6 A probably later copy of the Instruments of Kitchen is in Christian IV’s study in the Rosenborg Castle (Denmark).

7 Boston, Museum of Fine Art, no. 57.534, 410 × 281 mm (Geiger 1954, plate 37; Boston, Cleveland, Washington 1989, p. 50, no. 24). Another exemplar from the same plate is in the Baselitz Collection (Gèneve 2002, p. 50, no. 24).

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