Fornasetti exhibition – Rome

A recent visit to Rome was a last-minute decision and a treat which sent me into Instagram overdrive (many apologies!) with snaps of frescos, classical architecture and palazzos. With no time for planning, you can imagine my intense delight when we got there to find a retrospective exhibition of Fornasetti design on at the 15th Century Palazzo AltempsSo – lovely readers – because there were no photographic restrictions, I am excited to be able to share with you a tailor-made blog tour of the exhibition …

Ancient and modern

Thoughtfully and humorously curated, the Fornasetti objects are displayed amongst the ancient sculptures and Renaissance frescoed rooms of the Palazzo. There is no particular flow to the rooms, you choose which direction to take which makes it all quite relaxed.

Courtyard of Palazzo Altemps, Rome. Photo: Charis White

The Fornasetti history bit

It’s worth checking out the rather fun Pythonesque Fornasetti website for more information but briefly, the company was started by Piero Fornasetti (1913 – 1988) who was a Milanese painter, sculptor, interior decorator and engraver. He created more than 11,000 items, many featuring the face of a woman, operatic soprano Lina Cavalieri, as a motif. The company is now run by Piero’s son Barnaba who curated this exhibition.

Ceramic plate with image of operatic singer Olivia Cavalieri. Photo: Charis White
Photo: Charis White

Fornasetti designs

Fornasetti’s whimsical designs cover everything from china to chairs, tables, chests of drawers, cupboards, mirrors, rugs, trays, screens and wallpaper – quirky, surreal even but always immaculately finished. Regardless of trends (probably more popular here in the 80s and 90s when Liberty stocked some of the furniture), Fornasetti designs cut their own groove and I think will always be classics in their own right.

Display case of Fornasetti objets at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White


Serpent rug by Fornasetti, hung on the wall behind Athena with her serpent. Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White

Umbrella stand

Umbrella stand made up of cutout urns with scenes of classical themes by Fornasetti. Photo: Charis White


Greek muse Calliope sitting in front of a row of Fornasetti ceramic plates, Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White
Chest of drawers by Fornasetti. Photo: Charis White


Trays by Fornasetti at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White
Mirrors, rug, chair all Fornaesetti at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White

Rug as wall art

Approx 2.5 m square rug by Fornasetti, hanging on the wall at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White

Cocktail stool

Fornasetti leather buttoned seat cocktail stool taking centre stage amongst plates and pot at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White
Electric guitar for a god! by Fornasetti at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White

Fornasetti Venetian blind with greek key pattern

Fornasetti bike and Venetian blind (with greek key pattern) for a god! at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White

Fornasetti sketches

A picture frame collection of Fornasetti doodles and design inspiration. Photo: Charis White

Palazzo Altemps – the history bit

The Palace was built in the 15th Century and is rather like a city in its own right.  It has its own private chapel as well as a sizeable theatre (in which Mozart once played) complete with more jaw-dropping frescos. The Palace has been owned by various noble Italian families from the Riarios to the Medicis, Orsini, Altemps and Hardouins before becoming in 1997 the Museo Nazionale Romano. When you walk into the courtyard and see ahead of you open frescoed verandahs with lemon trees you could be forgiven for thinking you had entered heaven …

First floor terrace with frescoes of Palazzo Altemps, Rome. Photo: Charis White
Frescoed ceiling of the open first floor verandah at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White
View into the courtyard at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White

Theatre at Palazzo Altemps

Circle and ceiling of theatre in Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White
Ceiling above the proscenium arch of the theatre in the Palazzo Altemps (where Mozart once performed). Photo: Charis White
Harpsichord made by Fornasetti on exhibition in the theatre at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White
Musical chair by Fornasetti on exhibition in the theatre at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White

I have this thing with frescoed ceilings

I always notice how and where an exhibition is staged and whether it sits happily within its environment but it is rare to walk around with eyes as much on the ceiling as on the exhibition in question… You certainly get more than value for money with the 13 Euro ticket price!

Frescoed ceiling at Palazzo Altemps. Photo: Charis White

Surreal shopping

In the UK, a selection of Fornasetti ceramic designs are available at Liberty and Harrods while a much larger offering including umbrella stands, bar stools, lampbases and chairs is available from Amara.

Fornasetti candle Liberty
Bacio scented 300g ceramic candle pot, Fornasetti, £140, Liberty
Capitello Corinzio chair, £2,250 by Fornasetti at Amara

Cole and Son produce Fornasetti wallpapers which are enduringly popular. One of my favourites is Nuvole.

Fornasetti Nuvole wallpaper
Nuvole wallpaper mural (270 x 265 cm) by Fornasetti at Cole & Son

Palazzo Altemps opening hours

Piazza di Sant’Apollinare, 46 (just N of Piazza Navona), Rome

until 6 May 2018

Open Tue – Sun from 9am – 7.45pm

Tickets: €8 – 13

Free Rome

I would also like to share a very comprehensive and helpful list of several sites you can see in Rome for free.

Thank you

Thank you so much for reading. I hope you have enjoyed this post – please don’t forget if you want to receive email alerts for future blog posts, then just press the large blue ‘Follow’ button either at the beginning or end of a post. With many thanks, Charis x


7 thoughts on “Fornasetti exhibition – Rome

  1. Wow what a fabulous exhibition to stumble across! Last May ambling around the Complesso del Vittoriano we came across a Botero exhibition which was superb, we loved it. Some of them are in private collections so rarely seen, the whole experience was just icing on icing on top of the wedding cake! Fantastic photos Charis. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jo. Yes, I think it is absolutely possible to stumble across – and maybe is the nicest way to find treasures in Rome rather than completely planning everything and feeling that you are on a schedule. Love icing on icing on the cake as that was how it felt for us too. Xx


  2. Another great post Charis! This reminds me of an encounter with Piero Fornasetti many many moons ago. I was in Milan researching for an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou called “Images et Imaginaires d’Architecture” about representations of architecture in the arts. At the time I didn’t know about Fornasetti’s work. (Nowadays he is an iconic figure but there was a period when his work fell – wrongly – slightly under the radar.) Anyway, I was walking in the city with Jean Dethier, chief curator of the exhibition, when we passed by a shop window that stopped us in our tracks. It was chockerblock full of things from plates to umbrella stands to trays and much more, covered in images including many architectural details. We tapped on the window and an elderly man opened for us. To tell the truth he was a little grumpy, not welcoming and not remotely interested when we said we wanted to exhibit his work at the Centre Pompidou! End of story though: we did present a beautiful cabinet that he had designed. xxx


    1. Thank you so much Ruth for your very interesting reply recalling your encounter with Piero Fornasetti in Milan. When you mentioned how the shop was chock full of things, I too was surprised at the exhibition really quite how many different products Fornasetti designed as we have probably only seen a fraction in the UK. Xxx


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