The muses of Piero Fornasetti

From nude drawing to Lina Cavalieri, the loves of a genius

by Lavinia Colonna Preti
The muses of Piero Fornasetti — Lombardia Secrets

Fornasetti's source of inspiration: from nude drawing to his love for collecting objects, from her muse, Lina Cavalieri the first modern diva in history, to the brand's Milan cult addresses.

Have you ever wondered what defines a masterpiece? Surely this, abused, noun can be attributed to a work whose original aesthetic value remains unchanged over the centuries without going out of fashion, immediately recognizable and the result of an unconditional creative motion of the soul. Because, in Fornasetti’s own words, “An artist who wants to be successful is no longer an artist”.
And Piero Fornasetti, born in Milan in 1913, has certainly produced many masterpieces, to the point of having changed the history of world design.

Since he was a child he has been driven by strong creativity which, combined with curiosity, total aesthetic dedication, and stubborn precision, leads him to experiment with various arts. If, as he said of himself says, he starts painting at the age of 10, the key to his genius lies in his passion for drawing. Based on the observation of truth and nature, this tecnique teaches us, in fact, the rules of “beauty”, as perfect shapes and proportions are always dictated by practical functionality.

The muses of Piero Fornasetti — Lombardia Secrets
The muses of Piero Fornasetti — Lombardia Secrets

In 1932, just to deepen the art of drawing, he enrolls at the Brera Academy, but his free spirit can’t stand the impositions of the “puritan” period of the cultural institution that bans nude drawing lessons. Fornasetti, who then leaves Brera to enroll in the Higher School of Applied Arts of Industry at the Castello Sforzesco, will later declare that the secret to being a good designer is to go to nude school, because if you know how to draw that, from which all the rules derive, you can then design anything, even a car or a building.

He then pursues intense years of experimentation with different techniques, shapes, and materials. Fornasetti starts from an object that strikes him – he will collect thousands – and, by start drawing it, he transforms it by placing it through the dreamlike magnifying lens of his many travels, readings, and life adventures.

The muses of Piero Fornasetti — Lombardia Secrets
The muses of Piero Fornasetti — Lombardia Secrets

In the early 1930s he becomes passionate about lithography, a technique, as we know, which exalts drawing in a particular way, and opens the Fornasetti Art Printing House which becomes a buzzy joint for many contemporary artists, from De Chirico to Fontana.
In 1933 he experiments with an innovative print on silk scarves that earns him the attention of Gio Ponti with whom he begins a working partnership that will serve both as a continuous and prolific inspiration. Together they will really design everything, without limits of imagination, from houses and public places (like the Sanremo Casino) to cabins for ships (as for the transatlantic Andrea Doria), from cinemas to, of course, lots of furniture (like the famous trumeau Architecture exhibited at the Triennale of ’51) and design objects.

In the 1950s Fornasetti opens his design and decorative arts atelier and in 1952, reading a magazine from the 19th century, he is struck by the face of (Natalina) Lina Cavalieri, legendary and beautiful opera singer whom D’Annunzio celebrated in 1906 as ” The greatest testimony of Venus on Earth”. Lina, an extraordinary life, invents the myth of the modern celebrity as we conceive it today. She uses bold dresses, jewels, and hairstyles characterized by a spontaneous sensuality with which she enchants the world’s theaters, masters the commercial use of her image so much that she even opens a beauty salon, becomes one of the first divas of cinema and she does not miss a coup de théâtre even in her private life. She collects as varied as bombastic marriages and liaisons – from a Russian prince to the king of Kazan, from a famous tenor to the racing driver brother of Mr Bitter Campari – and she launches the toyboy trend. She will even be arrested and accused of alleged espionage activities for the Allies, until a mysterious and equally theatrical death, in 1944, in his home in Florence hit by an aerial bomb.

The muses of Piero Fornasetti — Lombardia Secrets

It is she who, by pure chance, as Fornasetti replies when asked why Lina, becomes the protagonist of the series “Theme and Variations”, to date the most famous creation by Fornasetti. Her perfectly proportioned face inspired him, in fact, over 400 variations, giving life to one of the most iconic objects in the history of design.

After his death in 1988, today it’s his son Barnaba who continues his father’s production and legacy.
If you are true Fornasetti-lovers, book the Fornasetti suite at the Mandarin Hotel, 100 m2 of pure, hedonistic pleasure, and a private visit to the mono-brand store of the brand opened in 2016 at the intersection of Via Senato and Corso Venezia.

Useful Info

Fornasetti Official Site
Suite Fornasetti Mandarin Hotel

Discover the Secret Places closest to you