The Heritage Studio

The 360 and more variations of Lina Cavalieri’s enchanting face. By Piero Fornasetti

By Bebe Leone

“To Lina Cavalieri who was able to create with her art a rare harmony between her physical beauty and the passion of her voice” Gabriele D’Annunzio

The story of Lina Cavalieri’s enchanting face

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Settings: La Belle Epoque. Rome, Paris, St Petersburg, New York

Leading actress: The story of Lina Cavalieri, ‘the world’s most beautiful woman‘, resembles more to a fairy tale than a real story. Born on Christmas day in Rome in 1875, Lina was of humble origins and of extraordinary beauty. She started to sing at the age of 14, performing in small Cafes Chantants in Rome, becoming quickly one of the most famous chanteuse in town. It was a few years later in Neaples that she gained fame  and recognition thank to the popular Neapolitan song she added to her repertory. Her debut at les Folies Bergeres marked her success as an international peformer.Right after came London and St Petersburg, a marriage to a Russian Prince and the decision to conquer the opera stage. Her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where she kissed her partner Caruso full on the lips during the performance of Fedora, gained her the nickname of the ‘kissing Primadonna’. Her beauty and charm and the incredible charisma shown on stage made up for the voice that was pretty but thin in texture and small in range. Her incredible strength, beyond the legendary beauty, was the ability to create a character and a distinctive style that were irresistible for many.

.Plot: Piero Fornasetti first saw Lina in a nineteenth-century French magazine and became obsessed with the enigmatic beauty of her face. In 1952 he started to transform Lina’s face through his Theme & Variations. He said that Lina Cavalieri’s face was “an arche­type – a quint­es­sen­tially beau­ti­ful and clas­sic image, like a Greek statue, enig­matic like the Gioconda and there­fore able to take shape into the idea that was slowly build­ing in his mind ” (Gramilano). Peeking at you from plates, chairs, candles and wallpapers Lina’s face became more than a motif in his work, it became iconic of Fornasetti’s design in the world. When asked why so many variations of a face of a woman Fornasetti said “I don’t know, I began to make them and I never stopped”.

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