12 April 2012

Geometric/Floreale: The Fortunys

Geometric flowers  are typical of Fortuny designs, a union Arabic and Western ideas.  Geometry in Arabic science began as a series of symbolic forms, while Western artists used Euclidean principles to invent pictorial perspective.  The difference can be represented by a flower.  The Arabic flower was a visual image, an abstraction that could be known  by studying refracted light. Whereas, the Western flower was an object in front of the eye, to be known through the gaze.

Mention the Fortuny name and what comes first to mind is a diaphanous pleated dress, known as  the Delphos: it was named after an ancient Greek tunic and made from silk plissé  fabric, using a technique for pleating fabric that teh Fortunys  patented.   The Delphos dress and the Knossos scarf really did begin a revolution in fashion and, as we have remarked about Viennese reform attire, women were very much involved in changing the norms ot their dress.  Fortuny and Negrin's ideas were shaped by the modern rethinking of Greek civilization that began after Heinrich Schliemann's archaeological discoveries of the 1870s.  Theorists turned from Athens to Crete, one result being heightened awareness of women's role in ancient Greece.   In this context, it is ironic that Johann Jakob Bachofen, whose theory of 'mother right' has been largely discredited   is more often cited than the more subtle semi-pagan speculations of the first British female academic,  Jane Ellen Harrison, whose  Prolegoma To The Study Of Greek Religion (1902) was a favorite college text of mine.  We know now that Knossos, on the island of Crete is the oldest known European city, dating back to the Bronze Age.  

"She was enveloped in one of those long, Oriental gauze scarves that the alchemist dyer Mariano Fortuny submerges in the mysterious potions of his caldrons, stirring them with a wooden stick, first like a sylph, then like a gnome, where he obtains colours from strange dreams and later prints them with his thousands of new generations of stars, plants, animals."
 - Gabriele D'Annunzio wrote in Forse che si, forse che no (1910) on seeing Henriette wearing an early version of the dress.

"She" was Henriette Nigrin, an artist who supported herself as an artist's model in Paris, where she met Mariano Fortuny in 1897.  Henriette eventually moved to Venice in 1902, becoming  his business partner and designer.   The Fortuny family disapproved of their relationship, so they did not marry for several years.  Together, they designed textiles and, after World War I ended, opened their own production company on the Giudecca, still in operation today. 

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo,  son, grandson, and nephew of respected Catalan painters, was born  in 1871 in Granada.  After his father's untimely death in 1874, the family moved to Paris, living with their uncle, the painter Raimundo Madrazo.  Mariano's Parisian friends included Marcel Proust and the composer Reynaldo Hahn.

The family moved again, to Venice in 1892, to the Palazzo Orfei, now the home of Museo Fortuny.  Among Mariano 's Venetian friends were  Marchesa Casati anf the writers Gabriel d'Annunzio and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

The young Fortuny expected to follow his father's vocation as a painter, but a visit to the annual Wagner Festival Bayreuth  in 1893 convinced him that theatrical design offered a better scope for his talents.   Eight years later, Fortuny  designed the sets for the Italian premiere of Tristan and Isolde at La Scala  (1901).  

 “The Fortuny dress Albertine wore that night seemed like the tantalizing shadow of invisible Venice. It was covered in Arab ornamentation just like Venice, just like Venetian palaces, disguised as sultans behind a veil pierced with stones, just like the bindings in the Ambrosian Library, just like the columns with Oriental birds that alternately mean life and death and are repeated in the mirage of the clothes, in a deep blue that, as my eyes approached it, became changeable, thanks to the same transmutations that, in front of the advancing gondola, became metal enflaming the azure of the Grand Canal. And the sleeves were lined in cherry pink that is so Venetian it is especially called Tiepolo pink."
 - Marcel Proust,  excerpted from La Prisonnière (1923), translated from the French by G. K. Scott-Moncrieff.  

Poetic but not exaggerated, Proust's vignette of the Delphos dress alluded to the Moorish influences in Fortuny designs.   Granada, where Mariano Fortuny was born,  a city on the Iberian Peninsula  had been part of the Moorish Al-Andalus (now Andalusia). for eight centuries, from 711 to 1492.

Mariano Fortuny died in 1949 and was buried at the Verano in Rome next to his father.  The Fortuny home was donated to the city of Venice to be maintained as a museum in 1956 by his widow, Henriette (Negrin) Fortuny.

Images:  from the collection of Museo Fortuny at Museo Civici Veniziani .
Visit the website: Museo Fortuny.
Also: Fortuny


Fabrics  designed by Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo & Henriette Nigrin.
Photograph of Henriette Nigrin -c. 1909   by Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo.
Unidentified photographer - Marano Fortuny in his atelier, Campo San beneto, Venice.

For further reading:
1. Anne-Marie Deschodt - Mariano Fortuny: un magicien de Venise. Paris, Editions du Regard: 1979.
2. Guillermo de Osomos - Mariano Fortuny: His Life and Work, New York, Rizzoli: 1980.
3. Cathy Gere - Knossos & The Prophets Of Modernism, Chicago, University of Chicago Press: 2009. 


Rouchswalwe said...

Fascinating! Thank you for this beautiful geometry, Jane!

chris said...

dear jane,
I found your blogg by accident on internet. I like it so much and I appreciate : )) thank you

Jane said...

Rouschwalwe. when I was first looking at these textiles I thought of the backgrounds in Vuillard's early paintings.

Jane said...

Chris. thank you. A happy accident, I hope.

Fortuny, Inc. said...

Great post! Love the antique prints you show.

Jane said...

There are many more at the Museo Fortuny website, if you click on the link at the end of the post.

Yasue said...

Great blog. I love Fortuny. Many original Fortuny customers still hold on to their Fortunys and still wear them. Peggy Guggenheim wore here until she was well in her old age. A true master.

Jane said...

Thanks, Yasue. Lucky Peggy Guggenheim! If I had a piece of Fortuny's work I would wear it - very gently.