Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lina Cavalieri The Face That Launched A Thousand Plates

Italian designer Piero Fornasetti once quite famously asked of himself: “What inspired me to create more than 500 variations on the face of a woman?” His admittance: “I don’t know, I began to make them and I never stopped.” is almost as charming as the plates themselves.

Piero Fornasetti

 Born in 1913, Piero Fornasetti was a Milanese painter and interior designer. One day he came across an image of the Opera singer Lina Cavalieri in a French, 19th century magazine, looking as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa. This image inspired Fornasetti to create his series of over 350 plates.

Each plate expands on the initial plate as he moves through themes such as illusion, architectural perspectives, the sun, and harlequins. Each plate explores the ideas of classical beauty and the mysteries of femininity. The wistful smile and saucer eyes of Lina Cavalieri engage the viewer through Fornasetti’s distinct black and white graphic style. The look is classic and timeless, a design icon to enhance your home surroundings.

Lina Cavalieri (25 December 1874 – 7 February 1944) was an Italian operatic soprano known for her great beauty.

Born Natalina Cavalieri in Viterbo, Latium, Italy, she lost her parents at the age of fifteen and became a ward of the state, sent to live in a Roman Catholic orphanage. The vivacious young girl was extremely unhappy under the strict raising of the nuns, and at the first opportunity she ran away with a touring theatrical group.

Blessed with a good singing voice, a young Cavalieri made her way to Paris, France, where her stunning good looks opened doors and she obtained work as a singer at one of the city's café-concerts. From there she performed at a variety of music halls and other such venues around Europe while still working to develop her voice for the opera. A soprano, Cavalieri took voice lessons and made her opera debut in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1900, the same year she married her first husband, the Russian Prince Bariatinsky. Eventually she followed in the footsteps of Hariclea Darclée as one of the first stars of Puccini's Tosca. In 1904 she sang at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo then in 1905, at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris, Cavalieri starred opposite Enrico Caruso in the Umberto Giordano opera, Fedora. From there, she and Caruso took the show to New York City, debuting with it at the Metropolitan Opera on 5 December 1906.

Cavalieri remained with the Metropolitan Opera for the next two seasons performing again with Caruso in 1907 in Puccini's Manon Lescaut. Renowned as much for her great beauty as for her singing voice, she became one of the most photographed stars of her time. Frequently referred to as the "world's most beautiful woman," she was part of the tightlacing tradition that saw women use corsetry to create an "hour-glass" figure. During the 1909–1910 season she sang with Oscar Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera Company. Her first marriage long over, she had a whirlwind romance and marriage with Robert Winthrop Chanler (1872–1930), a member of New York's prominent Astor family. However, this marriage lasted only a very short time and Cavalieri returned to Europe where she became a much-loved star in pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg, Russia, and in the Ukraine.


During her career, Cavalieri sang with other opera greats such as the Italian baritone Titta Ruffo and the French tenor Lucien Muratore, whom she married in 1913. After retiring from the stage, Cavalieri ran a cosmetic salon in Paris. In 1914, on the eve of her fortieth birthday — her beauty still spectacular — she wrote an advice column on make-up for women in Femina magazine and published a book, My Secrets of Beauty. In 1915, she returned to her native Italy to make motion pictures. When that country became involved in World War I, she went to the United States where she made four more silent films. The last three of her films were the product of her friend, the Belgian film director Edward José.

Married for the fourth time to Paolo d’Arvanni, Cavalieri returned to live with her husband in Italy. Well into her sixties when World War II broke out, she nevertheless worked as a volunteer nurse. Cavalieri was killed in 1944 during an Allied bombing raid that destroyed her home in the outskirts of Florence.

La Cavalieri's discography is slim. In 1910, for Columbia, she recorded arias from Faust, Carmen, Mefistofele, La bohème, Manon Lescaut and Tosca, as well as the song, "Maria, Marì! (Ah! Marì! Ah! Marì!)." In 1917, for Pathé, the soprano recorded "Le rêve passé," with Muratore.

She was painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini (acquired by Maurice Rothschild) and by the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862-1947). The latter is now the property of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, the gift of Nicholas Meredith Turner in memory of his wife the soprano Jessica Dragonette. Hers is the face that appears repeatedly, obsessively in Piero Fornasetti's designs.

Giovanni Boldini

In 1955, Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida portrayed Cavalieri in the film The World's Most Beautiful Woman. In 2004, a book was published authored by Paul Fryer and Olga Usova titled Lina Cavalieri -The Life of Opera’s Greatest Beauty, 1874–1944.

To visit the Fornasetti website go here

Text Source Wikipedia


  1. Dash it's always such a pleasure to visit your blog. I love that I learn things here that I didn't know, or even know I wanted to know! But I do, very much.

  2. Fascinating.
    There is an offshoot of the Museum of Modern Art at the chateau of Oiron in the Deux Sevres where an artist made a dinner service featuring the profiles of all the inhabitants of the commune - which is on display - and at the annual dinner, each person has his own plate at his place at the table.

    Super museum and wonderful building, too.

  3. Dear Dash
    I totally agree with Kerry.. I always enjoy my visits here.. both informative and visually wonderful.. Cavalieri was such a lovely looking woman.. but these images are just exquisite... love the blue image [of course]..... and Fornasetti plates.. who doesn't love them.. just a wonderful post.. yet again.. now need to go over to that website.. xx Julie

  4. Imagine singing opera in an hourglass corset! She's surely gorgeous. Enjoy reading about your ladies.

  5. There is always something new and delightful here. I love your blog!

  6. What a gorgeous woman she was! Perhaps that is why I believe European women are so much more beautiful than American. There's such sophistication in their bearing. Such mystery in their eyes.

  7. Another wonderful and interesting read. I'm loving these Dash, thanks :-)

  8. My dear, we are true kindred spirits. Like you, I'm fascinated by the singers from the golden age era. I've read something about Lina Cavalieri in an album called DIVAS by Rene Fleming and of course, her name also keeps coming up in the other records I've got in this era. Wasn't she blessed with not only a voice but also the glamour! You write the most informative post for us all. What a taster to some of us who might want to explore more about this singer! Thank you very much. I missed reading your posts! I've got a lot of catching up to do, my dear x

  9. Another fascinating story, Dash? Where do you get all your info?

  10. What a fascinating post thank you! I recently saw the Grace Kelly exhibition at the V&A and what always (probably foolishly!) shocks me with the great beauties is how unique their looks are - i.e. no one else really looks like them! Cavalieri was obviously a stunning and talented woman, and quite the dresser!

  11. Wonderful post. I have always loved the Fornasetti plates and there's some beautiful images of Lina. Hope you're having a gorgeous weekend. We have torrential rain here! The garden's looking healthy though... xx

  12. Dash, you've done it again! I love your posts about these women. And what I wouldn't give for the dress that she is wearing in standing black and white photo. Thank you for taking the time to share these glamorous women with us.

  13. This is such an interesting post. I always wondered about who this lady was. btw, I linked to your post in a blog post I just did on decorating with dishes. Thanks for the great info.


  14. equal to my leanne de pougy !!!! today we have suzanne andrade qv 1927 theatre group a look alike


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