Collection Highlight: Fontana Arte Bowl and Pedestal

In the 1930s, under the shared direction of designers Gio Ponti (1891–1979) and Pietro Chiesa (1892–1948), Fontana Arte, the newly created artistic division of the glass manufacturing company Luigi Fontana & C. (founded in 1881 and located in Milan), pursued innovative paths of research into the expressive potential of glass. New production techniques afforded by technological advances were reinventing the field, resulting in entirely new possibilities for the medium.

This remarkable object, a pedestal topped by a huge, amber-colored glass bowl (measuring 53 ½ inches in diameter), was conceived as an expression of the evolution from a classical element, the Doric column, into an outsized decorative fountain. This rare piece was originally in Villa Toeplitz, an eclectic residence in Varese, Italy, named after its owner, the Polish banker Giuseppe Toeplitz.

When I first saw the bowl at The Wolfsonian’s Annex, the sheer scale of it and the fact that it was made of glass were what I found most striking. We placed it on the column and the dimensions are so out of scale that it throws the viewer off balance—there’s a bit of a Gulliver’s Travels feel to it. There were no markings indicating the manufacturer, although through research it was traced to Fontana Arte. Another model of this colossal bowl was documented in the periodical Casabella in March 1935 in an article on the Model House Exhibition presented by Fontana Arte at the 1935 Bari Fair.

Many of Ponti and Chiesa’s designs have appealed to consumers for decades. Several of their designs from the 1930s, especially lamps and tables, have become iconic pieces that are still manufactured by Fontana Arte today. This bowl and pedestal, however, is not one of them—this object is an example of the company’s special line of limited production wares intended for an elite clientele.

—Silvia Barisione, curator, The Wolfsonian

Caption:

Bowl and pedestal from Villa Toepliz, Varese, c. 1934
Fontana Arte, Luigi Fontana & C., Milan, manufacturer
Glass, mirror, brass, wood
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, TD1989.74.1a,b