The home and museum of Mariano Fortuny, an artist and designer who never ceases to amaze


Campo San Beneto, Venice, not far from the Sant’Angelo vaporetto stop along the Canal Grande. In the clear, calm air of a Sunday morning in April, swept by the strong Bora winds of the previous night. Pier Luigi Pizzi, the great Italian master of theatrical direction and scenography, in great shape at 92 (he was born in 1930, I repeat to myself, fascinated by his lively and tirelessly curious eye), takes me to a journey of discovery of his latest creation, the new interior of the Museo Fortuny. The Palazzo was eventually restored and reopened after the Acqua Granda floods of November 2019, which heavily damaged its ground floor; the work was supervised by the City and by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, with significant private funding. The portego on the ground floor and the first floor of Palazzo Fortuny have been open to visitors since March 9, 2022; the second floor will hopefully open in June. The new interior design of the entire complex, in collaboration with Gabriella Belli and Chiara Squarcina, aimed to “bring home Mariano Fortuny”, as Pizzi affectionately puts it, “recovering and displaying the incredible heritage of paintings, books, sculptures, objects, clothes, fabrics, lamps, engravings, drawings and models that had been packed in boxes, kept in the Palace and in the archives.

A priceless legacy that had been set aside to make way for temporary exhibitions that overshadowed Fortuny’s impact on the Palazzo, which was his home, studio and factory from 1898 until his death in 1949. Pier Luigi Pizzi studied and explored the vicissitudes, thoughts, writings and works of Mariano Fortuny, born in 1871 in Granada, to revive the spirit of the tireless researcher and creator, at least in a dramatic sense and in the building facilities. What makes his multifaceted personality so singular, according to Pizzi, is his ability to apply practical invention to artistic intuition, in a spirit much closer to design than art. Fortuny drew, engraved and painted, but above all, he invented processes and technologies in various fields, from fashion to theater and interior decoration, patenting and registering all his inventions. He creates pigments and resins, and the machines to print on fabric which make him famous all over the world: he patents about fifty paintings (temperas of Fortuny), draws clothing styles which have remained in history, such as the Delphos dress, with his wife Henriette Nigrin, who was also his muse and companion, and imagined the technologies needed to pleat the dress. He invented a dome to create diffused light effects for natural stage ambience, including the look of a cloudy sky. He invented fabric lamps, folding tables and movable shelves to hold artists’ paints and brushes with a built-in light. He designed and built the furniture of the Palazzo, the display cases, the cabinets of the library, the easels: he was a versatile creative artist who surrounded himself with beauty, culture and ideas in his Palazzo in the center of Venice .

Pier Luigi Pizzi highlighted the portego on the ground floor and the noble room, whose width is revealed, 43 meters from the windows on one side to the windows on the other. Throughout the day, natural light is complemented by cleverly designed lighting by architect Massimo Gasparon. “The room was restored in the spirit of times past,” explains Pizzi, “when Fortuny and his wife received friends, intellectuals, artists, actors and nobles from all over Europe in these rooms. Here, they showed them their creations, talked business and had fun discussing art and poetry”. The sumptuous fabrics of the walls are signed Fortuny, as are the hangings hanging from the ceiling, as Fortuny himself represented them in a painting.

To one side of the room is the winter garden, with a 140 square meter fresco depicting nymphs, fauns and winged spirits among garlands of flowers; on the other side, a series of rooms including a fashion room with famous outfits, an arms room containing the ancient armours, shields and helmets that inspired Fortuny in the development of his creations, and finally the most intimate space: the painter’s studio. Pier Luigi Pizzi exhibits his easel with a seat, a self-portrait, the model’s bed, and the sculptures and animal skulls that Mariano copied in his still lifes. This is where we feel his presence, more than anywhere else: it looks like he has just left, in a hurry, leaving an incomplete drawing on his easel.

Antonelle Galli

All images courtesy of Archivio Fotografico Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia

01 Museo Fortuny @ photography by Massimo Listri
02 Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo in the library of the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei (around 1940)
03 Museo Fortuny, busts and small sculpture. @ photography by Massimo Listri
04 Palazzo Fortuny, formerly Pesaro degli Orfei, home of the Museo Fortuny, in Campo San Beneto, Venice.
05 Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, The Painter’s Studio at Palazzo Pesaro Orfei, c. 1940, Tempera on wood, 119 x 132.5 cm. Collections of the Fortuny Museum.
06 Museo Fortuny, winter garden, @ fotografie di Massimo Listri
07 Museo Fortuny, the painter’s studio, @ fotografie di Massimo Listri
08 Museo Fortuny, model of the Teatro delle Feste designed by Fortuny for the Esplanade des Invalides in 1910, @ fotografie di Massimo Listri
09 Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, Portrait of Henriette Fortuny in Pompeii costume, 1935, Tempera on wood, 218 x 132 cm. Collections of the Fortuny Museum.
10 Mariano Fortuny and Madrazo, Still life. Chalks in the studio, 1940, tempera on wood, 124 x 90.5 cm, Collections of the Museo Fortuny
11 Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, Self-Portrait, c. 1935

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