Fontana Arte Jewelry
Best known for its elegant and innovative lighting pieces, the Milan-based firm Fontana Arte pioneered one of the key features of 20th-century and contemporary Italian design: the union of artistry and industry wrought by partnerships between creative talents — chiefly architects — and entrepreneurial businesses. Fontana Arte is further distinguished by having had as artistic director, in succession, four of Italy’s most inventive modernist designers: Giò Ponti, Pietro Chiesa, French transplant Max Ingrand and Gae Aulenti.
The bread and butter of the glassmaking company that Luigi Fontana founded in 1881 was plate-glass panels for the construction industry. In 1930, Fontana met Ponti — then the artistic director of the Richard-Ginori ceramics workshop and the editor of the influential magazine Domus— at a biannual design exhibition that became the precursor to today’s Milan Design Triennale, and the two hatched an idea for a furniture and housewares firm. Fontana Arte was incorporated in 1932 with Ponti as its chief of design. He contributed several lamps that remain among the company’s signature works, including the orb-atop-cone Bilia table lamp and the 0024 pendant — a stratified hanging sphere.
The following year, Fontana Arte partnered with the influential Milan studio glassmaker and retailer Pietro Chiesa, who took over as artistic director. Chiesa’s designs for lighting — as well as for tables and items including vases and ashtrays — express an appreciation for fluidity and simplicity of line, as seen in works such as his flute-shaped Luminator floor lamp and the 1932 Fontana table — an arched sheet of glass that is held in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Six years after Chiesa’s 1948 death, the École des Beaux Arts–trained Max Ingrand took over as head of design at Fontana Arte. Ingrand brought a similarly expressive formal sensibility to wares such as lamps and mirrors, but he also had a masterful eye for the manipulation of glass surfaces — whether they be cut, frosted, acid-etched or sand-blasted. His classic design is the Fontana table lamp of 1954, which has a truncated cone shade and curved body, both of which are made of pure, chic white-frosted glass.
Following Ingrand, the often-audacious Italian architect Gae Aulenti served as the company’s artistic director from 1979 to 1996, and while she generally insisted that furnishings take second place aesthetically to architecture, she made an exception for Fontana Arte pieces such as the Tavolo con Ruote series of glass coffee and dining tables on wheels, bold lighting pieces such as the Parola series and the Giova, a combination flower vase and table lamp. As a key incubator of modern design under Aulenti’s tenure, Fontana Arte remained true to its long-held commitment — creating objects that have never been less than daring.
Early 20th Century Art Deco Fontana Arte Jewelry