Roberto Sambonet (born in Vercelli, 1924, died in Milan in 1995) is known across the world as a painter and as a designer and graphic designer. He attended school in Milan, where he had moved to with his family in 1930. After completing his school education specializing in humanities, he enrolled in the Architecture School at Milan’s Politecnico University, before dropping out shortly after to devote himself to painting, when he began to attend evening classes at the Accademia di Brera, as well as delve into Milan’s art scene, taking part in various exhibitions. His background, deeply steeped in painting, would go on to bleed into all his works as a designer and graphic designer. From 1948 to 1953, he lived in Brazil, where he came across the local art and culture scene, that was particularly dynamic at the time. Sambonet in particular became involved with the MASP (the São Paulo Museum of Art) and met its director Pietro Maria Bardi, taking part in a series of exhibitions and projects, and handling the set-up of exhibitions and events whose invitations and posters he designed. With this, he took his first steps in the world of graphics and design.
Another experience that was key to Sambonet was his trip to Stockholm in 1953, during which he discovered Swedish design and adopted an approach to design that was more closely linked to industrial production. Thanks to his friend, historian and intellectual Göran Schildt, he met Alvar Aalto, who not only became a great friend but also a great mentor to him. With Schildt, Sambonet embarked on long trips in the Mediterranean aboard the historian’s boat: these excursions would continue to be taken for over thirty years, and would act as an endless source of inspiration for all his work.
In that same year, following a series of trips around Europe, Sambonet returned to Milan where he was met with an international and artistically cosmopolitan scene, and in 1954, through Max Huber, he began his longstanding and enriching collaboration with the department store la Rinascente. For 15 years, he was responsible for designing the window displays and organising runway shows, as well as designing promotional campaigns, including those for daily newspapers and magazines. He also organised and set up a number of product showcases and events, such as “Natale-Idea” and “Casa”. With Giancarlo Ortelli and Gianni Bordoli, Sambonet organised the “Grandi manifestazioni” events dedicated to India (1959) and the Indios (1964), not only being responsible for the exhibition set-up and the catalogues’ graphic design, but also for finding representative objects to be displayed at the events, found by travelling to the respective countries.
In 1956, he received the first Compasso d’Oro award for the design of “Piatto tondo-ovale” (Round-oval dish), produced by the Sambonet company, the first in a long line of official accolades.
Up until the 1990s, Sambonet worked tirelessly, continuing to experiment in painting alongside his work in design and graphics. From 1957 to 1960, he worked as the art director of the Olivetti magazine “Zodiac”, and was behind various advertising campaigns, including one for Linoleum Pirelli and for the paint company Max Meyer. Moreover, he went back to his roots, acting as art director, designer and graphic designer for his family’s company Sambonet Spa, redefining its products and giving a complete overhaul to the company’s image.
The Roberto Sambonet Painting Archive is a private archive founded and maintained by the artist’s family. The wealth of the archive’s content is thanks to the artist’s desire to keep anything that documented his life, his work, and his interests. Part of Sambonet’s work was donated to the CSAC, the Study Centre and Communication Archive, and the remaining archive contents were reorganised and separated into paintings, and graphic and design works. Since 2010, the latter grouping has been held at CASVA, the Centre for Advanced Studies on Visual Arts, on loan free of charge.
The painting archive comprises hundreds of works, such as drawings, watercolours and oils that chronicle Sambonet’s painting work and culture.
The selection of works shown here is made up of 20 sketches of window display and runway show designs, and two advertising posters.