Marcello Fantoni (1915-2011) sculptor, ceramicist, metalworker, multi-media artist and designer
Born in Florence in 1915, Marcello Fantoni began studying ceramic art at age 12 at the Art Institute of Florence with ceramicist Carlo Guerrini, artistic director of the famed Cantagalli Factory. He continued years of training in ceramics and the arts, including sculpture with Libero Andreotti and Bruno Innocenti, and figurative art with Gianni Vagnetti, graduating as a maestro of art in 1934. After a stint as art director for a ceramics factory in Perugia, in 1936 he opened the Fantoni Ceramic Studio in Florence. Here he produced ceramic series as well as unique pieces, sculptures and furnishings. In 1937 Fantoni’s pieces were exhibited in the Florence National Arts and Crafts Exhibit where their unique combination of rustic forms decorated with African and marine motifs and painted figures garnered considerable acclaim. By the start of World War II Fantoni’s melding of ancient Italian pottery techniques with decidedly Modernist elements had won him artistic and commercial success both in Italy and abroad.
Having participated in the resistance, after the War Fantoni worked for the 500-year old Maiolica factory in Deruta, Umbria, renowned for its signature tin-glazed pottery. In the 1950s he refocused on his Florence studio, dedicating himself to larger sculptural pieces and working on many collaborations. He also expanded his experimenting with materials, forms, drawing from varied influences – Primitivism, Novecento style, Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. Fantoni gave special emphasis to ancient Etruscan ceramic techniques, glazes and colors, heightening the timeless appeal of his pieces. As well as clay, he also worked in metals to great effect. Whether created as a series or as a unique piece, every Fantoni piece was ultimately rendered unique by his hand-painting it. The extraordinary diversity of shapes and textures notwithstanding, one the most identifiable qualities of his creations was his painting style. Through the 50s and 60s he made many cubist-inspired vases and ewers painted in colors bordered by sgraffito lines scratched through the paint in a manner evoking Picasso and Braque. Along with figurative and abstract works, the 60s also saw Fantoni creating brutalist pieces with edgy, angular shapes, while in later life, his work took a minimalist turn.
In 1970 Fantoni founded the International School of Ceramic Art, dedicated to teaching ceramic arts and experimentation. (Many of his students and employees would go on to become noteworthy artisans and artists in their own right.) Maintaining great versatility throughout his career, Fantoni completed projects for public and private buildings, churches, schools, theaters, cinemas, and ships. His works, meanwhile, were collected by important museums worldwide. When Marcello Fantoni died in Florence in 2011 at the age of 95, his obituary in the Italian newspaper La Nazione hailed him “The master of beauty.”
Museums and Exhibitions
MoMA New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Fine Art of Boston, Victoria and Albert Museum of London, Royal Scottish Museum of Edinburg, Museums of Modern Art of Tokyo and Kyoto, International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza, National Bargello Museum and Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe of the Uffizi in Florence.
“Materia e colore, l’arte di Marcello Fantoni”, Loggia della Limonaia di Palazzo Medici Riccardi di Firenze, 2015
"Marcello Fantoni, A Beautiful Form with Beautiful Color", Archaeological Museum of Fiesole, 2005
"Ceramics as Art, Marcello Fantoni Ceramist and Sculptor", Salone delle Regie Poste, Florence, 2000
Marcello Fantoni: Ceramista in Firenze Dal 1929 by Antonio Paolucci, Edizioni della Bezuga, 1999
Marcello Fantoni, Ceramica come Arte, Published by Octavo, 2000
Marcello Fantoni Mostra al Museo Archeologico di Fiesole, 2005, YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_UdexpQZ7Y