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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of the Fortuny Museum in Venice

What is the Fortuny Museum?

The Fortuny Museum is an eclectic collection of art and curiosities gathered and produced by 20th-century artist Mariano Fortuny, which is housed in a Gothic palazzo.

Fortuny Museum in Venice

Remi Mathis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Fortuny Museum History

With its curving, arched windows and elaborately decorated façade, the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei is one of the most complex examples of the Venetian Gothic to be found in the whole of Venice. Originally built for nobleman Benedetto Pesaro in the mid-15th century, the palace is now home to the Museo Fortuny, an eclectic collection of textiles, lighting, curiosities, painting and photography. The Spanish artist Mariano Fortuny discovered the palazzo in the late 19th century. Though it was crumbling and neglected, the multi-talented artist and designer fell for the building’s architectural beauty. Initially taking on the attic as his studio, over the years Fortuny acquired and restored every other part of the derelict palazzo, turning it into an astonishing atelier of painting, photography, stage and textile design.

In 1907, Fortuny moved in with his wife, muse and creative collaborator Henriette Nigrin. The pair set up a fabric-printing workshop that became renowned for its distinctive dresses and designs. It was here that they created their iconic Delphos gown, inspired by and named after a famous ancient Greek statue. The elegant and understated garment was a global hit, making the Fortuny name. If you want to get your hands on a Fortuny design today, visit the showroom of Fortuny Tessuti Artistici on the Giudecca, where textiles are still handprinted according to the designer’s innovative and top-secret methods.

The Museo Fortuny is set over two artfully dilapidated and moodily lit floors. It’s almost overflowing with objects; rooms are filled with artwork, fabrics, and extraordinary lamps and chandeliers of Fortuny’s own design. This organised chaos reflects his active mind and varied interests, and the thematically organised collection demonstrates the breadth of his investigation and experimentation.

Around 150 paintings illustrate Fortuny’s progression as an artist. Look out for his first known work, Study of the Female Nude, painted when he was just 17. Paintings are displayed along with fine and applied art collected by the artist and his father Marià, a well-reputed Romantic era painter, along with an extensive collection of photographs that document Mariano Fortuny’s life and career. Fabric examples, printing plates and fashion accessories produced by the Fortuny factory from the early 20th century onwards show inspiration drawn from Renaissance design as well as from world culture. The palace is also still home to Fortuny’s original workshop and wonderful library, rich in original furnishings, art and rare volumes.

Fortuny died in 1949. Seven years later the building and its contents were donated to the city by his widow, to be ‘perpetually used as a centre of culture in relation to the arts’. In 1975, the Museo Fortuny opened to the public for the first time. It has remained an exciting cultural centre ever since, hosting inventive temporary exhibitions often in collaboration with major international cultural institutions, as well as a diverse programme of festivals, conferences and creative workshops. Works by Anselm Kiefer, Marina Abramović and Pablo Picasso have been displayed here, as well as exhibitions of fashion, applied arts and photography.

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