In 1958 Piero Fornasetti had the idea to create one room completely in his black and white designs. The Stanza Metafisica (Metaphysical Chamber) surrounds the viewer with 32 monochrome lithographically printed trompe l'oeil panels depicting doors, windows, ladders and steps and is an intense evocation of his style.

portrait-1958-stanza-metafisica Portrait of Piero Fornasetti surrounded by the Stanza Metafisica in 1958
Image via milkmagazine.net

Piero Fornasetti began as a painter in the 1930s, but it was in his lithography and graphics that he excelled and placed him amongst the most iconic designers of the 20th Century. Italian designer and architect Gio Ponti was one of the first to spot his potential in the 1940s after seeing his work transposed onto silk head scarves at the Milan Triennale in 1933, which began a collaboration between the two designers transposing his graphics onto furniture.

An Architettura Cabinet sold by Sothebys in 2008 for £23,000. Image via Sothebys An Architettura Cabinet sold by Sothebys in 2008 for £23,000.
Image via Sothebys

One of the best examples of this collaboration was the the Architettura Cabinet, originally conceived around 1951. The wooden chassis was designed by Gio Ponti and in form is a combination somewhere between a bureau bookcase, a bar and a credenza, covered in lithographic prints after designs by Fornasetti. As one opens the classical facade doors, the viewer descends into a classically columned hallway disappearing into the distance. It is a pure piece of theatrical design and is the epitome of Fornasetti's and Italian design of the period, in its combination of hand crafted processes and mechanical methods.

tema281front A selection of Fornasetti's most famous design - Theme and Variations - based on opera singer Lina Cavalieri.
Image via toujoursenvogue.blogspot.co.uk

kiss-tables-554x464 A selection of Fornasetti's most famous design - Theme and Variations - based on opera singer Lina Cavalieri.
Image via toujoursenvogue.blogspot.co.uk

fornasetti1 A selection of Fornasetti's most famous design - Theme and Variations - based on opera singer Lina Cavalieri.
Image via toujoursenvogue.blogspot.co.uk

The most recurrent theme in his work is his depiction of the Italian opera singer Lina Cavalieri. After discovering her image from an old 19th Century French magazine, he became enchanted, and again and again he used her face in his graphics, including on his most prolific series Themes and Variations, with no less than 350 versions on plates, paperweights and candlesticks. Beginning in 1952 he transposed her profile at his whim, creating Lina with moustache, Lina as hot air balloon, Lina winking, Lina broken in half, Lina as hour glass and Lina deep sea diving amongst many other variations demonstrating his wit and imagination.

The 'Leopard' chest of drawers, designed in the 1960s is believed to be one of only three original examples, the design was reprised in the 1980s by Ateliers Fornasetti. Image via Christie's The 'Leopard' chest of drawers, designed in the 1960s is believed to be one of only three original examples, the design was reprised in the 1980s by Ateliers Fornasetti.
Image via Christie's

Piero Fornasetti's work nowadays has transformed from being a whimsical aside of Italian design to an incredibly commercial international brand. His Surrealist concoctions transposed onto trays, chairs, tables and ceramics, produced not in a factory but by an artisan workshop, are instantly recognisable objects of the mid-20th Century period and are desirable as a counterpoint to the ultra sleek lines of modernism. They still astonish, amuse and allure our sensibilities, influencing contemporary designers such as Philippe Starck, and the largest ever exhibition of his work in Paris is a must see (the exhibition runs from March 11 to June 14).

Inspired? Check out Piero Fornasetti on Barnebys here.

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