Mariano Fortuny Museum, Venice, Italy – Part One.

In April of this year I had the great good fortune to visit the Fortuny Museum in Venice, Italy. The Fortuny Museum or ‘Museo Fortuny’ in Italian is housed in the Palazzo Pesaro a 15th Century Venetian palace. Fortuny or Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (11th May 1871, Granada Spain – 3rd May 1949, Venice Italy was an early twentieth century Spanish couturier based in Venice and is perhaps most famous for his ‘Delphos’ dresses (pictured above) of finely pleated silk with Murano glass beads on a silk cord to either side of the waist of the dress to way the dress down.

The Fortuny Museum is a little bit of the usual Venetian tourist trail but is near enough the Rialto Bridge vaporetto stop and the Piazza San Marco to make it part of a longer day discovering Venice’s heritage. Though there is no signage outside the museum which I found made finding the entrance hard as I initially though the entrance was a private entrance to an apartment block. Some clear and visible signage outside the museum for people who perhaps don’t have google maps would be helpful.

The tickets for the museum can be bought online and at the museum and cost €11.00 for a single, €8.50 euro for a student, €8.50 for over 65’s etc. Once you buy your ticket you walk up a flight of stairs to what is the main exhibition room filled with paintings, sculptures, textiles, and furniture. This room was the main room of the atelier and is where clients would have seen the latest Fortuny designs before choosing their favourite design to be made for them.

The museum consists of one large exhibition space on the first floor with two additional rooms of art and fashion and one room that was used by Fortuny as a living room as he also lived in the building. The route then returns downstairs to a contemporary exhibition space and gift shop featuring books, textiles, postcards, jewellery, and murano glass ware that can be bought by visitors.

Adjacent to this larger room are two smaller rooms; one is filled with art work from the Fortuny collection that inspired his love of Moorish, Oriental, and Venetian textiles as well as an array of art depicting various stages of Venetian history. In the second smaller room there is an impressive display of original ‘Delphos’ dresses of varying shades of silk; peach, pink, black, grey etc. Some have Murano glass bead belts whilst others have lace inserts or lace additions.

Whilst the dresses themselves are beautiful in their own right the display method utilized left me feeling perplexed to the curatorial decisions made in displaying the dresses. The lighting was overly glaring and from working in a museum perhaps was not the best use of light and could be doing damage to the original dresses. The dresses were also on open display with from what the viewer could see no visible methods of protecting the dresses from either a curious visitor or pests, light damage, and other environmental factors.

The mannequins used to display the dresses again left me with questions as to why the curator or curators choose mannequins that looked static, un-posed, and left the viewer feeling that this element of the exhibition was un-loved or was an after thought. Additionally, the way the mannequins were posed at odd angles with arms across bodies or standing slightly askew in my opinion did not display these dresses to the best of their ability. It is plain to see that the dresses are incredibly beautiful pieces of art in their own right but I felt that with a little more curatorial after-thought and perhaps intervention from a professional dress historian the dresses could be displayed to better show their beauty and important place in dress history.

Notwithstanding, the strange display of the Fortuny dresses the accompanying paintings and portraits of some of Fortuny’s clients did give context to whom wore his dresses originally and their positions in society. The majority of Fortuny’s clients appeared to be rich and possibly titled members of European and American elite society at the turn of the twentieth century. There were portraits of English duchesses’, French princesses, Italian marchesa’s etc. both wearing Fortuny’s delphos dresses and fashion of the Edwardian and pre-World War One period.

I felt that there had been more thought given to the display for the fine art collection of paintings, furniture, and sculpture than there had been of the actual dresses. Given that the majority of people will visit the Fortuny Museum to view the dresses I felt the lack of dress on display with little or no information on the production of the dresses coupled with the dresses being off in a side room to be particular fault with this museum’s exhibition space. Personally to me it felt like the curatorial direction was being focused more on the fine art collection than the dress collection or that there expertise on displaying dress may have been absent from the curatorial team at the museum.

The lack of curatorial focus on the Fortuny dress collection was a disappointment as I had deliberately travelled back to Venice to visit the museum as on my last visit to Venice the museum was closed. I do not feel that an admirer of Fortuny’s dresses would be disappointed though I feel that as I did you would expect more of the dresses to be on display than what appears in the museum. In the next blog post I will talk more about visitor flow, exhibition text, layout, and a closer look at the fine-art collection.

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