Italian furniture and light maker
Fontana Arte (established in 1933) was founded by Luigi Fontana, Gio Ponti, and Pietro Chiesa as a premier producer and marketer of furniture, lighting, and furnishing accessories, and distignuished itself applying the highest standards of glass craftsmanship and techniques. Throughout Fontana Arte’s history, its lamps and furniture have been highly sought after due to their superior glass craftsmanship and innovative design.
The origins of Fontana Arte go back to 1881, when Luigi Fontana established Luigi Fontana e Compagni to produce and market sheet glass for the construction industry. Luigi’s success as an entrepreneur in the growing construction sector, transformed Luigi Fontana e Compagni into one of the largest glass manufacturers in Italy, and by the mid 1920s, Fontana e Compagni’s capabilities included the creation of artistic stained glass that was mostly used in functional and decorative settings of churches and cathedrals. In just a few years, the production of such artistic stained-glass products had become of such importance that a different division within the Fontana e Compagni was created to further its development. In 1930, Luigi Fontana met the successful young Milanese architect Gio Ponti, who was then the art director of Richard-Ginori pottery company, and they formed a partnership, under the name of Luigi Fontana SA, for the production of light fixtures, furniture, and furnishing objects. During this initial period, Gio Ponti designed fro Fontana Arte the now-iconic 0024 Pendant light (1931) and the Bilia Table Lamp (1931). read more
In 1932, Gio Ponti approached Pietro Chiesa to join him and Luigi Fontana and to become Luigi Fontana SA’s artistic director. In 1933, Pietro Chiesa merged his studio, the Bottega di Pietro Chiesa, with Fontana SA, and together Luigi Fontana, Gio Ponti, and Chiesa founded Fontana Arte. During Chiesa’s tenure as artistic director, Fontana Arte’s production became rich and varied. It included furniture, tables, mirrors, sculptures, and stained glass, but it was certainly in the lighting sector where Fontana Arte excelled by creating lamps and lights with the highest standards in glass craftsmanship and modern designs. From this period came the 0024 and Bilia lamps (designed by Ponti, 1931 and 1932), the Naska lamp (1933), the Luminator floor lamp (Chiesa, 1932), the Cartoccio glass vase (Chiesa, 1932), and the Fontana table, made out of a single band of bent clear glass. It was also during this time that Chiesa created what would become Fontana Arte’s signature colors of the time, deep blue and green, which Chiesa integrated so successfully into many of his creations.
In 1933, Fontana Arte participated in the Venice Biennale, the Triennale di Milano (Milan Triennial), and other major international exhibitions; it opened stores on via Montenapoleone in Milan and on via Condotti in Rome, and expanded its international sales through partnerships, becoming a symbol of refined taste and modernity. During World War II, Fontana Arte’s fortunes declined, and Pietro Chiesa served as its artistic director until his unexpected death in Paris in 1948.
Max Ingrand became artistic director of Fontana Arte after Chiesa’s death. During Max Ingrand’s early artistic directorship, Fontana Arte focused on innovative combinations of metals and glass. In the early 1950s, he established a design collaboration between artist Lucio Fontana and architect Roberto Menghi, and Fontana Arte created stunning tables with large ceramic bases and glass tops. But these were also times of great opportunities brought about by the change in taste, expanding market for designer furniture and lighting in Italy and abroad, and improvements in manufacturing techniques. Wanting to take full advantage of these opportunities, Max Ingrand rapidly moved Fontana Arte from a limited, exclusive, and very expensive production line into a modernized and highly serialized one, while maintaining its superior quality by implementing simpler designs. Important products realized during these years include the Fontana lamp (Ingrand, 1954) and the Pirellina and Pirellone lamps (Ponti, 1967), which are still in great demand. The late 1950s and 1960s brought new design partnerships (e.g., Bobo Piccoli, Gianni Reggiori, Alberto Rosselli, Franca Helg, Umberto Riva, Duilio Barnabé, Piero Castellini, Gianni Celada), and Max Ingrand continued as Fontana Arte’s artistic director until his death 1969.
After a long transition period, during which the iconic Uovo lamp was designed for Fontana Arte by Ben Swildens (1972), Gae Aulenti became Fontana Arte’s artistic director in 1979, and the group began a renewed era of creativity—this time, by centering back on glass making and forging new design partnerships, such as those with Pier Giacomo Castiglioni (Parola lamps, 1980), Pierluigi Cerri, Daniela Puppa (Prima Signora lamp, 1992), Franco Raggi (Velo lamp, 1989), Umberto Riva (Metafora lamp, 1980), and Renzo Piano (Teso furnishing systems). In 1998, Fontana Arte obtained the prestigious Compasso d’Oro for its many years of achievement in the lighting sector. Today, the company continues to operate and innovate today under Giorgio Biscaro, who has been its artistic director since 2012.
Last updated: March 27, 2019
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