Pietro Chiesa (1892–1948) designer, glassmaker
Pietro Chiesa was born in Milan in 1892 into an eminent family of artists. He first obtained a degree in law, but after volunteering in the Italian air force during World War I he decided to pursue his passion for the glass arts. Upon serving an apprenticeship with glassmaker Giovan Battista Gianotti, in 1921 Chiesa opened his own glassmaking studio and shop in Milan, Botega di Pietro Chiesa. At first making mostly mirrors and leaded windows, he soon began experimenting with glass, notably stained glass, in new ways.
Chiesa first presented his work at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris to excellent acclaim. His early lighting prototypes, while small in scale, served as foundation for larger, later works. That same year he collaborated with architect Gustavo Pulitzer on commissions designing windows for Italian luxury liners, as well as a large-scale polychrome glass dome for the S.S. Saturnia. Other important commissions followed, and Chiesa’s studio flourished. In 1927, together with Gio Ponti, Michele Marelli, Tomaso Buzzi, Emilio Lancia, and Paolo Venini, Chiesa cofounded Il Labirinto. This partnership between architects, designers and manufacturers produced high-quality furnishings in the fashionable Novecento style of the time, with Chiesa concentrating mainly on glass works, many with monochrome geometric patterns. Chiesa’s friendship with Ponti would prove especially prolific.
The 1930s saw Chiesa making lamps, windows and mirrors with sandblasted decorative glass, which he showed at the 1930 Triennale in Monza and the 1932 Biennale in Venice. In 1933 he became a partner in the firm founded by Gio Ponti and Luigi Fontana, best known as Fontana Arte. Incorporating his own studio into the company, Chiesa utilized his immense knowledge of glass in designing over a thousand technically complicated, elegantly modern pieces for Fontana Arte, including glass vessels, decorative objects, mirrors, lamps, tables, cabinets and other furniture. Ponti considered Chiesa’s designs master works, and by mutually sharing the role of art director they took the company to new heights. Chiesa worked glass in unique ways, implementing special cutting techniques, fragmenting and splintering it, and creating unusual shapes. In 1935 Chiesa became head designer for Fontana Arte, with Ponti designing occasionally. While initially the company made mostly furniture and objects, Chiesa prodigiously applied his glassmaking skills to new lamp designs, forging Fontana Arte’s reputation for lighting and creating some of their most iconic lamps.
By the time Chiesa stopped designing in 1945, Fontana Arte had become a world-renowned trademark of 20th century Italian design. Among his designs that Fontana Arte still produces are the “Fontana” table (1932), made from a single, bent band of clear glass; the flute-shaped “Luminator” floor lamp (1933) in lacquered brass tubing; and the “Cartoccio” series of vases, made by hot-folding glass into beautifully undulating shapes. In addition to his creative role at Fontana Arte, Chiesa worked with major architects on public buildings, business headquarters and posh residences, as well as monumental projects such as the Via Roma in Turin, the Piazza della Vittoria in Genoa, and the glass windows of the Trieste Stock Exchange.
Pietro Chiesa died in 1948, having helped propel glasswork into the 20th century while taking modernist design to new heights both technically and aesthetically.
Museums and Exhibitions
“20th Century Design from the Museum Collection”, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1958-1959
“Shaping Modernity 1880-1980”, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012-2013
Fontana Table, 1932, MoMA Design Archives, New York
Fontana Arte - Gio Ponti, Pietro Chiesa, Max Ingrand by Franco Deboni, Allemandi & C., 2013
Radiance and Symbolism in Modern Stained Glass, edited by Liana De Girolami Cheney, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016
Mostra individuale di Pietro Chiesa nella Galleria Pesaro, Bestetti & Tumminelli, Milano, 1924.