autumn at palazzo fortuny

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo 1910

On a recent trip to Venice I was had a pleasant surprise with a visit to the Palazzo Fortuny, a Gothic palace-museum which was Mariano Fortuny’s atelier of inventive lighting and stage design, textile and fashion design, painting, and photography. On your next trip to Venice, I recommend visiting this museum during one of its temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.

Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949) was an eclectic artist, born in Granada, Spain, from a creative family. His father was the renown painter Mariano Fortuny y Marsal and his mother, Cecilia De Mandrazo, was daughter and niece of famous Spanish painters. From the age of 3, after his father’s death, Fortuny grew up in Paris where he learned to paint and at age 18, he relocated to Venice, already becoming part of important circle of international artists. Fortuny was greatly inspired by Richard Wagner and his interests shifted from painting to theater and set-design.

Fortuny Delphos Gown
Fortuny Delphos Gown

Fortuny began experimenting with photography and colored lighting for set-design for some very important stage productions. He even designed innovative lighting systems and lamps which are still reproduced today, as well as his fabric designs. An inventor, he developed new ways of dyeing and pleating silk and velvet fabrics. He began collaborating with his wife, a seamstress, and designed elegant Art Nouveau gowns and “Knossos” scarves with his famous and revolutionary plissé silk pleat (before Issey Miyake). In 1907 he designed the “Delphos” dress, inspired by ancient Greek dress resembling a feminine, form-fitting architectural column.

Museo Fortuny, Venice
Museo Fortuny, Venice

The Museo Furtuny is 4 levels of exhibition space, with one main floor dedicated to Fortuny’s Atelier. It feels like entering an elegant night club with all walls and window covered with dark Fortuny textiles, with cabinets of curiosity, low lighting lamps and long velvety sofas. All walls and every corner are filled with Fortuny’s art works, and his collected works by other artists, interspersed with contemporary artists’ works cleverly installed. I felt that the unexpected juxtaposition of these pieces worked very well in the context and the general dreamy atmosphere of the very personal space. Perhaps unfortunately, the guards were very attentive which made sneaking photographs extremely difficult.

Franco Vimercati - A Minute of Photographs, 1974
Franco Vimercati

The museum is open only during the temporary exhibitions, which through Novebmer 19, 2012, include installations by Franco Vimercati, Maurizio Donzelli, Béatrice Helg, and Annamaria Zanella, all of which were excellent and well-considered for the museum. On the ground level of the museum is an exhibition of photographs by Franco Vimercati (1940-2001) entitled Tutte le cose emergono dal nulla, or All Things Emerge from Nothing. The space is very rough and brown with wall surfaces resembling mud and wooden floors that seem to be re-purposed from an old barn. The finishes are unexpected, but work well with the sequential black and white photographs of soulful objects stressing the purity of the image.

Maurizio Donzelli @ Museo Fortuny
Maurizio Donzelli @ Museo Fortuny
Maurizio Donzelli @ Museo Fortuny
Maurizio Donzelli @ Museo Fortuny

On the 3rd level, the space is very light-filled and raw loft-style space with exposed concrete walls with areas of scratched color in a pre-restoration state. The space, beautiful in itself, was installed with works by Maurizio DonzelliMetamorfosi (Metamorphosis). From floor to ceiling are watercolors, collages, mirror “drawings”, wall hangings, and rugs by the artist. The most impressive pieces for me were the rich and intricate tapestries recently woven in Nepal. The colors and forms, some resembling Rorschach inkblots, were perfectly presented in the space.

Maurizio Donzelli - Metamorphosis
Maurizio Donzelli – Metamorphosis
Beatrice Helg - Profondeurs IX2
Beatrice Helg – Profondeurs IX2

On the upper level, in another light-filled sort of attic space with views of Venice was another photography exhibition, rich with visual texture and suggested architectural dimensional spaces with meditative and slightly haunting qualities. The large-scale photographic prints by Béatice Helg (Swiss, b. 1956), Risonanze (Resonances), have painterly qualities of light and surface, simultaneously monumental and intimate, airy and heavy, light and dark. Installed on spicy orange-red walls, with an original ceiling of dark wooden beams, the images work well within the space.

Annamaria Zanella - Fortuny Colors Plissé, 2012
Annamaria Zanella – Fortuny Colors Plissé, 2012

On the main floor in the Fortuny Atelier, in original wooden cabinets, is an exhibition of contemporary jewelry by Annamaria ZanellaOltre l’ornamento (Beyond the Ornament). Using fragments of non-precious materials such as copper, steel, iron, glass, wood, porcelain, paper, and cement, Zanella creates sculptural objects with rich surfaces and vibrant colors additions of pigment which transform the materials into narrative objects. Some are geometric and heavy while others are more delicate, dictated by the nature of the material. Some recent pieces were made especially for the installation and highlight Zanella’s technique of folding metal, very similar to Fortuny’s plissé silk pleat.

Annamaria Zanella
Annamaria Zanella
Fortuny Museum
Fortuny Museum

On the main floor, there is another gallery of photographs by Vimercati, art-carpets by Donzelli, and an unexpected light installation by James Turell (b. 1948, Los Angeles). The next temporary exhibition to be presented in the Museo Fortuny coming soon in December 7 – March 19, 2013, will be Fortuny e Wagner: Wagnerism in the Visual Arts of Italy, which will include works by Fortuny never before exhibited, along with works by Antoni Tàpies, Bill Viola, and Anslem Kiefer.


Fortuny Lamp design
Fortuny Lamp design

Palazzo Fortuny
San Marco 3958, Venice
Tel. +39 041 5200995

Through November 19, 2012
Open 10 am to 6 pm (ticket office: 10 am to 5 pm), Closed on Tuesday
Tickets: 10 Euro

Vaporetto stops: Line 1 Sant’Angelo stop, Line 2 San Samuele stop

2 thoughts on “autumn at palazzo fortuny

  1. […] I love the Palazzo Fortuny museum in Venice for its interesting exhibitions within a unique atmosphere of Fortuny’s original home/studio. Today, an exhibit opened by jeweler Barbara Paganin, Open Memory and runs through July 14, 2014. This work appeals to me with its collection of found objects, which I prefer over Paganin’s more organic pieces mixed with glass. The glass tradition in Venice is definitely evident in her previous work. […]

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