“What inspired me to create more than 500 variations on the face of a woman? I don’t know. I began to make them and I never stopped.” – Piero Fornasetti
Italian painter, sculptor, and engraver Piero Fornasetti was famously obsessed with the face of 19th-century operatic soprano Lina Cavalieri, featuring it in countless designs for his collection of tableware and home décor.
“What inspired me to create more than 500 variations on the face of a woman?” asks Italian designer, Piero Fornasetti of himself. “I don’t know,” he admits, “I began to make them, and I never stopped.”
Natalina “Lina” Cavalieri was born on Christmas Day at Rieti, north of Rome in 1874. At the age of fifteen she lost both her parents and become a ward of the state, now staying in an orphanage run by strict nuns. This is not the life story you would expect for someone who would become known as “The most beautiful woman in the world”.
Cavalieri eventually fled the orphanage to join a touring theatre group finding her way to Paris and became one of the most famous and seductive opera singers at the turn of the 20th century.
Cavalieri spent the better part of her life touring the greatest stages of the world, appearing in silent films, releasing beauty products and perfumes and courting princes and millionaires across Europe and America.
The beauty behind the plates died at her mansion in Florence, Italy during an air raid bombing by the allied forces in World War II. Lina and her fourth husband Paolo d’Arvanni were delayed in reaching their air raid shelter in time because they had stopped to collect all the exquisite and priceless jewellery that she had accumulated over time.
The couple’s servants all reached the shelter in time and survived the bombing because they had fewer valuable pieces to collect.
Reports suggest that Piero Fornasetti found the photo that he used for the of Lina Cavalieri in a French fashion magazine and thought her inquisitive eyes reminded him of the Mona Lisa and became obsessed with her beauty.
While we remain intrigued by the beautiful face donning Fornasetti’s plates and have her placed on our walls and sitting on our sideboards, it is important to hear the story behind the face and the powerful woman behind it.
Cavalieri’s gifts of beauty, nerve, uniqueness and talent rose her from a dirt-poor childhood to the dazzling heights of Europe’s elite and then on to an untimely demise in the darkest depths of World War II.
Her life shows a story of pain, sadness, glamour, love and beauty and we think Fornasetti saw this in her face when he first gazed into her eyes and why to this day we are now captivated by Cavalieri beauty and Fornasetti’s beautiful variations of her image.