Fontana Arte / Gio Ponti, Pietro Chiesa, Max Ingrand

On Thursday, March 7th Bernd Goeckler will host a book signing of the fantastic new publication Fontana Arte by Franco Deboni. The results of a lifetime of collecting lighting, furniture and objects from the famed glass company and three years of writing and assembling these incredible works, Deboni’s book is truly something extraordinary and the most complete document on the companies history and it’s three primary directors. Luigi Fontana established Luigi Fontana and Partners in 1881 in Milan primarily focusing on the sale of plate glass during a flourishing time of architectural growth in Milan and quickly became almost a monopoly. In 1893 Saint-Gobain opened a factory in Pisa supplying the raw materials in close proximity to the factory and eventually acquired a majority stake in the company in 1910. Fontana began expanding the use of glass to lighting fixtures and interior decoration and furnishings. The Villa Reale exhibition at Monza provided the initial contact between Luigi Fontana and Gio Ponti and led to a partnership in 1930 producing their first collection and two years later after acquiring Pietro Chiesa’s Bottega they launched the name Fontana Arte. Deboni’s book goes into great detail on the extensive background and history of the company with a focus on it’s three most significant directors.

Above: Chandelier of the Dahlia series, polished brass with 24 petals in coloured, curved and cut glass, arranged vertically; on each petal a small arm holds the lamping, c. 1954.


Gio Ponti

One of the most prolific Italian architects and writer of numerous books, his famous Amate l’archittetura (In Praise of Architecture), was published in 1957. Subtitled Architecture is a Crystal, the importance this material had on the architect’s design world was evident. To quote the book “Architecture is a crystal, pure Architecture is a crystal; when it is pure, it is pure like a crystal, magical, closed, exclusive, autonomous, uncontaminated, uncorrupted, absolute, definitive like a crystal. It is cube, parallelepiped, pyramid, obelisk, tower: closed forms that endure.” Ponti and Pietro Chiesa became friends in school in Milan and Chiesa was only a year younger than Ponti. Gio Ponti graduated from the Milan Politecnico University in 1921. He opened his first studio with Emilio Lancia and Mino Fiocchi and immediately began designing furnishings and became artistic director of Richard Ginori majolica and porcelain from 1923-1930. With his partners as well as Paolo Venini, Tomaso Buzzi and Michele Marelli, he founded Arredamenti (Venini Design) which later changed to Il Labirinto. In addition, Ponti created Domus in 1928 becoming one of the most important architecture journals in the world. The collaborations with these incredibly talented Italian architects were of critical importance in the development of Italian design and the birth of Fontana Arte.

Gio Ponti, coffee table with curved glass base, black glass top, c. 1931.
Gio Ponti, (The Mermaid and Fisherman) etched mirror with metal frame, c. 1931.
Polished brass table lamp, coloured curved sandblasted glass, c. 1960.

Pietro Chiesa

One of the most extraordinary figures of 20th century design, Chiesa was born in Milan and his father was completely against him having any career in art or design so he began studying law in Turin. Upon finishing law school World War I began and he volunteered in the Italian air force. After the war he was determined to follow his true vision and began to develop a strong passion for glass and wood and learning how to manipulate them in ways that had never been expressed before. He founded is own studio the Bottega di Pietro Chiesa in 1921 and it lasted over ten years. Renowned for his stained glass work and bringing modernism in design to an aesthetic and technical level that had not been seen in Italy. He received many important commissions as his business flourished such as the Vulcania, a huge dome in polychrome glass for a ship design by architect Gustavo Pulitzer. This morphed into his first lighting prototypes and although they were small in scale, critically they were very well received and became the foundation for his larger works becoming the second director of Fontana Arte in 1934. The friendship between Ponti and Chiesa and the creativity he shared with Luigi Fontana brought instant success to the company. Because Chiesa had such a depth of knowledge of glass he was able to use the material to its best and most elegant potential creating tables, liquor cabinets, mirrors and objects that were limitless in their innovation. Ponti noted the extreme essentialness of his works citing them as examples of purity, genuine artworks and expressions of a “Master supervised and performed to perfection.” In addition to his achievements for Fontana Arte, Chiesa was also a top-ranking interior designer working with major architecture studios on public buildings, business headquarters elegant residences and monumental works such as the Via Roma in Turin and the Piazza della Vittoria in Genoa which I visited last year.

Pietro Chiesa centerpiece composed of a sheet of cut glass, with three small metal flower bowls and coloured mirrored glass base, c. 1938.
Pietro Chiesa, wall lights formed by tapered satin finish glass cones, metal brackets, c. 1936.
Pietro Chiesa, thick glass bowl, lens hollowed, “torn” edges, c. 1934.

Max Ingrand

Born in 1908, the French designer was very similar to Pietro Chiesa in both his interest in glass early on and the parallels their early working lives had to one another in training that was crucial to providing him the knowledge he needed to be able to devote himself to this material. The third artistic director of Fontana Arte attended the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs and then began working in the studio of the famous master glass worker Jacques Gruber known for his wonderful Art Nouveau stained glass windows. Ponti took notice in the mid 1930’s published some of his most important works in Domus in March of 1936. “Max Ingrand, through constant research in the technique of acid and sand processing, surface and depth, achieved a truly masterly craftsmanship refinement. We show his works here as useful examples of decoration, ornament and design which to the perfection and precision of the crafting sometimes add a lyrical inspiration.” Among his most famous works for Fontana Arte are his Dahlia series shown in the first image here and on the cover of Deboni’s new book. An exceptionally large version was shown at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958.

Max Ingrand, ceiling lamp with glossy brass frame, with lens cut coloured glass bowl, c. 1954.
Max Ingrand, stippled brass wall light, profiled thick glass, curved and satin finish, with “torn” edges, smooth cut edges, c. 1956.
Max Ingrand, table lamp in nickel-plated brass, thick “gem” cut glass, c. 1968.
Max Ingrand, suspension lamp with nickel-plated frame, lights made of two thick sheets of profiled and cut glass, with satin finish central parts, c. 1960.
Max Ingrand, mirror in thick glass sheet in pale rose tint, profiled, satin finish with 12 “torn” glass circular roundrels, c. 1960.

Thank you to Bernd Goeckler, Sylvanus Shaw and Katje Hirche for the incredible images provided here and to Franco Deboni for this inspiring look into the magical world of Fontana Arte.
Book signing at Bernd Goeckler Antiques 30 East 10th Street on Thursday, March 7th from 5:00 to 8:00 pm.

Other dealers of vintage Fontana Arte lighting, furniture and objects:

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