Palazzo Fortuny

Palazzo Fortuny

After the Workshop, the Museum

Palazzo Fortuny
Palazzo Fortuny in Venice is devoted to preserving the heritage and legacy of one of Italy's most important artist Mariano Fortuny. The building retains the rooms and structures created by Fortuny, together with tapestries and collections. Four floors can be visited, and the museum hosts exhibitions closely connected to the spirit of Fortuny and his eclectic research and experimental interests.

The working environment of Mariano Fortuny is represented through precious wall-hangings, paintings, and the famous lamps – all objects that testify to the artist’s inspiration and still give count of his eclectic work and of his presence on the intellectual and artistic scene at the turn of the 19th century.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo

Born in Granada in 1871, Mariano Fortuny was himself the son of an artist and quickly found a place within the art and social world of Paris, the city in which he completed his studies as a painter. At 18 he moved to Venice, where he attended international artistic circles and would soon have figures such as Gabriele D’Annunzio, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Marchesa Casati, Eleonora Duse and Prinz Fritz Hohenlohe-Waldenburg amongst his friends.

A visit to Bayreuth and encounter with Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk [total work of art] had a profound effect upon him, and his interest shifted from painting to set design and stage lighting; his goal was to achieve total union of music, drama and visual presentation.

At the beginning of the 20th century he would design sets for the Italian premiere of Tristan and Isolde at the Scala in Milan.

Meanwhile, he began to develop his idea for the ‘cupola’ – that is, a system of stage-lighting that would use indirect, diffuse illumination to free set design from the restrictions of traditional lighting. When he began to enjoy the patronage of the Comtesse de Bearn, Fortuny’s revolutionary set designs could be put into full effect: between 1903 and 1906 the countess’s private theatre was equipped with a fully updated ‘cupola’ system. As a result of the fame this brought, Fortuny’s system was then produced in Berlin by AEG and adopted by major theatres throughout Europe.

But Mariano Fortuny was now searching out new creative stimuli: he began to produce fabrics and printed textiles, in partnership with Henriette Nigrin, who would become his wife in 1924; together they created the plissé silk dress known as the Delphos which made Fortuny famous throughout the world.

At this point he opened a factory on the Guidecca in Venice to produce his textiles, and opened shops in all the major capitals of Europe. At the same time he was also designing the decor and lighting for aristocratic homes and museums throughout Europe, receiving numerous titles and honours.

Even in these years of intense activity there was no drop in the number of commissions he received for work in set and theatre design.

The 1930s would see Fortuny make other innovations – for example, “Tempera Fortuny”, coloured photographic paper – and work on the illumination of some of the great cycles of paintings to be seen in Venetian scuole (for example, Tintoretto’s work at the San Rocco and Capriccio’s at San Giorgio degli Schiavoni).

Towards the end of the 1930s Mariano Fortuny retired to his magnificent home in the San Beneto district of Venice, where he once more took up painting and began to put together a record of his very varied career. He died in 1949, and is buried at Verano in Rome alongside his famous father.

The Palazzo
The Fortuny Museum was donated to the city in 1956 by Henriette, Mariano’s widow. Once owned by the Pesaro family, this large Gothic palazzo in Campo San Beneto, was transformed by Mariano Fortuny into his own atelier of photography, stage-design, textile-design and painting.
The Collections: paintings, photography and fabrics 
The collections within the museum comprise an extensive number of pieces and materials which reflect the various fields investigated in the artist’s work. These are organised under certain specific headings: painting, light, photography, textiles and grand garments. 

The painting collection

The collection contains some 150 paintings by Mariano Fortuny, which illustrate the various phases in this aspect of his career as an artist.The Wagnerian period, up until 1899, holds a central place. This meeting and blissful balance of painting and theatre mark an intimate understanding of the dream and myth that thrilled Europe at the end of the nineteenth century.


Equally fascinating, for other reasons, are the portraits, in which the family, and particularly his wife Henriette, play a fundamental role: here inspiration becomes an intimate chronicle in the context of stylistic inheritance from his grandfather, Federico de Madrazo; his uncles Raymundo and Ricardo; his friend Boldini.

The Study of the Female Nude (1988) made when he was just seventeen years old is the first pictorial attempt known by the young Mariano. This theme, which he continued referring back to (the latest of these exhibited here, Reclining Female Nude, is from 1946), became the palimpsest of techniques and styles interwoven even through his photographic work.

The two large still lifes seem to be the fruit of a crossover between Fortuny’s education and his original compositional ability.


The core of photographs shown at Palazzo Fortuny are taken from either the collection left by Mariano Fortuny or from the rich collection of the Musei Civici di Venezia, both of which are now undergoing full re-organisation within the Fortuny Museum itself. The entire collection comprises works from 1850 to the Second World War, with a rich variety of styles, techniques and historic images.


The Fortuny Museum’s collection of clothes, fabrics, trial prints, materials and ornamental clothes of one type or another make up a rich sample of Fortuny’s extraordinary work in the field of fabrics and fashion design, in which the artist took old ornamental motifs and reinterpreted them in a very “modern” decorative style.

The fabrics range from the simple diagonal-striped cotton cloth to velvets of silk and cotton (the perfect material for the famous polychrome printing, which was used mainly for furnishing fabrics).

The satin, the taffeta, the silk gauze and the velvets constitute the material for the Delphos, the surcoats, the sumptuous cloaks and capes, all imbued with infinite chromatic blendings and historical references.

Fortuny drew decorative models and designs from precious Renaissance velvets and from fabrics from distant, exotic cultures which, once printed, imitated and reinvented the original handicraft, thanks to a highly personal system of printing with inimitable material and three dimensional results.

The Museum combines ‘full’ spaces – for example, the first floor salone overflowing with paintings, fabrics and Fortuny’s famous lamps – with more open spaces: on the second floor, walls and windows, lighting and space recount the history of the palazzo and the atelier it housed. From here one can see into the wonderfully intact library, a kaleidoscopic ‘work in progress’ that brings together pieces by Fortuny and by contemporary artists from very different backgrounds.
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