Reviving Fortuny's Phantasmagorias

  • Wendy Smith

Student thesis: Phd


Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949) was a Spanish-born polymath who, though mostly remembered for his historically inspired fashion designs, was first trained as a painter in Paris and would become a lighting and set designer, photographer, costume designer, and inventor. Working in Venice at the turn of the 20th century with an insatiable appetite for the historic, the notoriously secretive artist was often called a magician. Fortuny was able to produce a realistic night sky using his own electric stage lighting system. He inverted traditional photographic processes by printing horizontally with natural light from the window in his darkroom. And his most enigmatic creation is a series of rarely seen photographic prints made in a lightless process where mounds of damp fabric were pressed onto sensitized paper to form an abstract multiplicity of wrinkles. Despite being an inventor who relied on technological advancements and experiments, Fortuny's deeply historical temperament is evident in his own declaration: 'Nothing is new in this world, so I do not pretend to bring new ideas'.He invented a machine for permanently pressing the Classical pleats of his delicate silk Delphos gown and with painted stencilling he re-created the glittering patterns of woven brocades and damasks from the Italian Renaissance - often copied from 16th-century painting. Marcel Proust utilized these garments, which remained largely unchanged over forty years of production, as Venetian emblems of memory in À la recherche du temps perdu, where they conjure Carpaccio's exquisitely painted velvet robes. Inspired by classical Greece and Renaissance Italy, amongst other eras, Fortuny was wildly historic in the way he brought together forms and patterns from disparate times and places. Invoking Michel Serres' illustration of multitemporality as a crumpled handkerchief, 'Reviving Fortuny's Phantasmagorias' argues that Fortuny's sense of time (like Proustian time) is pleated time - where the past touches the present. This thesis utilizes the concept of phantasmagoria in multiple ways. The antique-filled Gothic palazzo in which Fortuny lived and worked, which like the 19th-century interiors that Walter Benjamin describes, manifests a phantasmagoric layering of past upon present. 'Reviving Fortuny's Phantasmagorias' also employs Theodor Adorno's writing on Wagnerian opera and Marina Warner's historicised account of phantasmagoria to apply the term to Fortuny's stage lighting designs, clothing, and photography. The thesis follows Fortuny's self-assessment that he was 'first and foremost a painter' to argue that it was 'as a painter' that he thought of light throughout his work across various media. Though he is often relegated to footnotes in the large bodies of scholarship on Proust and Wagner, 'Reviving Fortuny's Phantasmagorias' centres on Fortuny and his work in Venice (a pivotal point of intersection for all three): the watery city of both memory and desire, of flickering golden light and dark, damp shadows. This thesis argues that Fortuny, as a revivalist, accessed the past through art objects and material visual culture, in his personal collection and from reproductions, to re-create them in the early 20th century. His work is phantasmagoric because of the way it uses light and darkness, shadows and projections, and movement and colour to bring historical images to life, bringing together a multiplicity of times. Though these themes are easily identifiable in Fortuny's work, they have yet to be traced throughout his oeuvre in any major piece of writing.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarol Mavor (Supervisor) & Cordelia Warr (Supervisor)


  • Richard Wagner
  • revivalism
  • fashion history
  • Venice
  • Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo
  • Marcel Proust

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