Pietro Chiesa was born in Milan in 1892 from a wealthy family of Swiss-Ticino origin, who has long lived in Italy. At the end of his higher studies he devoted himself to the study of law, attending the courses of the University of Grenoble first and then Turin.
After the war he decided to follow what was his true vocation, and although self-taught in terms of artistic knowledge, in 1919 he began a period of internship in the workshops of cabinet making and artistic windows of Giovan Battista Gianotti, where he began to mature his great passion for glass and wood. In 1921 he founded the “Bottega di Pietro Chiesa” in Milan in via della Signoria, with a group of highly skilled workers, with whom he formed the skeleton of the Fontana Arte many years later. The adventure of the “Bottega” lasted over ten years, bringing a great breath of modernity in the sector of artistic windows, both aesthetically and technically: three times he was assigned a room at the Venice Art Biennale, and was qualified exhibitor since the first Triennale of 1923 in Monza and participated in the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925. Other important commissions followed, thanks to the collaboration with the architect Gustavo Pulizer, for the construction of the windows that adorned the interiors of ocean liner Vulcania, Conte di Savoia, Victoria, Oceania.
In 1927 Chiesa took part in the foundation of the company “Il labirinto”, a group of young architects and interior designers, including Ponti, Lancia, Buzzi, Michele Marelli and Paolo Venini. With the latter, he established a particular relationship of friendship and collaboration that materialized with the supply to Fontana Arte by Venini of very thick blown vases which was then decorated with engravings by Erwin Burger. From the second half of the 1920s, Chiesa began to engage in the lighting sector and start developing interesting solutions to improve the light diffusion effect, as the use of opaque plates. Later he exploited the diffraction potential of large engraved crystal plates, illuminated by bulbs placed at the bottom achieving exceptional results, such as the large luminous panels he presented at the Venice Art Biennale in 1932. It was at this point that, at Ponti’s request, Chiesa approached Luigi Fontana who, the following year, 1933, absorbed the “Bottega di Pietro Chiesa”. In 1934 Chiesa assumed the role of Artistic Director of the newly formed Fontana Arte, a position he shared with Gio Ponti. In a short time he created new exceptional products and a complex of processes that extended from glass to furniture: the very limited series of furniture-containers with a wooden and metal structure covered with large mirrored curved slabs characterized by light colors and the iconic table, model n. 0736, obtained from the double curvature of a single thick glass plate, a real construction challenge for the technical means of the time.
But it was in the field of lighting that the greatest success was achieved, producing timeless classics: from the series of circular chandeliers with large satin crystal reflectors or cut crystal discs to the “Luminator” floor lamp, which Ponti defined as the most beautiful and essential lamp that had ever been designed.
Beside the activity of Artistic Director of Fontana Arte, Chiesa took care of interior decoration for important public and private commissions, as the furnishing of the Italian embassies in Berlin, Lisbon and Stockholm, the Palace of Justice in Milan, the University City of Rome, public lighting in via Roma in Turin. He also distinguished himself for setting up and curating important exhibitions in the decorative arts sector, in Paris, 1935, in Berlin, 1937 and again in Paris in 1937, many Venetian Biennials dedicated to the art of glass inside the Venezia Pavilion. In 1938 he was commissioner of the Government of the great exhibition of Italian decorative art in Buenos Aires. He died in Paris on May 26th 1948, during one of his usual visits to antique bookshops where he used to satisfy his passion for collecting.
“Excerpt from F. Deboni, Fontana Arte. Gio Ponti, Pietro Chiesa, Max Ingrand”, Allemandi, Torino 2012
Photo by Toure Christiansson, Göteborg, 1942