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A Theater of Memory

ICONIC ART | Nina Valeri

Among antique sculptures, extraordinary Renaissance frescoes, and all the wonders in Palazzo Altemps’ Roman Museum, an eclectic vision of the world is narrated by Piero and Barnaba Fornasetti and their designs. Between metaphysics and theatrical poetry, it is a union of pure beauty.



Amidst classic art and Egyptian sculptures, Renaissance frescoes, and archeological finds: in this sublime atmosphere surrounding Palazzo Altemps in Rome, the eclecticism staged by Piero and Barnaba Fornasetti is diffused into a tale of memory.

A stage of exquisite magnificence welcomes the exhibition “Practical References,” inaugurated to celebrate 20 years since the opening of Altemps Museum, historic residence of aristocratic families such as the Medici, Orsini, Altemps, and Hardouin. Eight hundred works – by the creative genius of Piero Fornasetti and son Barnaba – become true artistic raids among antique treasures, discretely invading every room all the way to the Palazzo’s court.

Furnishings, objects, and décor produced from the 1930s until now are the narration of daily life perceived through Fornasetti’s audacious eclecticism and unmistakable aesthetics, between surrealism and dream. It rediscovers signs and styles that Piero rewrote in the contemporary. “An invitation to the imagination, to think” – as he himself loved to say – is expressed through a path designed by Barnaba, Artistic Director of the Atelier, and Valeria Manzi, consultant for cultural projects, curated by Silvana Annicchiarico, Director of Triennale Design Museum, and Alessandra Capodiferro, Museum Director for Palazzo Altemps.

In this expression, as Barnaba Fornasetti writes, “memory becomes a reflection on modernity and imagination of the future, and we hope to awaken visitors giving them an idea of what we have been, what we are today, and perhaps even of what we can be in the future”. And in the creative liberty that distinguishes a modern genius, the exhibition itinerary invites visitors to create their own journey, following personal imagination and senses through the museum, guided only by an object indicating the trail: an umbrella stand by Fornasetti placed in each room. It creates an exchange between the classicism of works from the Permanent Collection and the skillful transliteration of Fornasetti’s objects. “We felt it was our duty to maintain a respectful distance and establish the exhibition’s participation in the space between familiarity and unfamiliarity that marks our relationship with Classic Art’s past”, writes Barnaba, “trying to create a dialogue in this space that winds along the thread of transgressions and respectful thoughts”.

 Just like in the Sala della Menade, where a sculpture depicting one of the maidens in the god Dionysus’ procession is surrounded by objects by Fornasetti entitled Cameos, Emperors, and Nummus. Another example is the Sala di Polifemo that is transformed into a theatrical stage, as a “Deep Sea” animated floating fish video projection surrounds the Cyclops.

Traces of memory are even scattered in the bookshop decorated with “Secret Keys” wallpaper, and in the special edition plate of the “Themes and Variations” series, created exclusively for the exhibition, revealing the face of artist Lina Cavalieri – considered the most beautiful woman in the world – one side whole and the other in fragments. It is a symbol of the dual identity of Palazzo Altemps and its poem of dreams, between history and modernity.

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