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We are grateful for Dr. Alberto Cottino for suggesting the attribution for these still lifes to Giovanni Paolo Castelli, called lo Spadino on the basis of digital images. This highly theatrical series of anthropomorphic paintings of the Seasons, painted by Spadino, one of the leading still-life painters working in Rome in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, is a deliberate throw-back to the famous proto-surrealist pictures of heads painted by the Mannerist artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo for Rudolf II of Prague and his father Maximilian in the late sixteenth century.

For Maximilian, Arcimboldo painted in the 1560s a series of heads composed of still-life elements emblematic of the Seasons (Louvre Paris,); and the Elements (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna,) and the idea was reprised in Arcimboldo’s famous anthropomorphic portrait of Rudolf II as Vertumnus, God of the Seasons, which was composed of fruit and flowers (1590, Skokloster Castle, Sweden).

In Le vite de’ pittori, scultori & architetti of 1642, the painter and art-historian Giovanni Baglione credited the Florentine artist Francesco Zucchi (1566-1642) with the invention of a ”way of composing and colouring the heads of the Four Seasons with their fruits, flowers, and other things which in the time of those seasons Nature customarily brings forth.” One such work by Zucchi is Spring (Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut) (fig 1). It may have been that Zucchi was introduced to Arcimboldo’s works via Caravaggio, during the period when both artists trained in the studio of Cavaliere d’Arpino. More recently, it has been suggested by Maria Silvia Proni that the subject was actually popularized by Giovanni Stanchi (1608-after 1673), even if Zucchi was responsible for this specific type of figural group.