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  • Luigi Zortea—an artisan who worked in northern Italy from 1921 to 1950—created some of the most intricate and extraordinary works in ceramic during the first half of the twentieth century. The present wall lights are exquisite examples of the type of work for which he is most known. In 1950, Domus eulogized Zortea for the mesmerizing worlds of white flora and fauna that he created in earthenware. The technical mastery of these works, paired with their monochromatic palette, make them deceptively complex. They are dramatic yet graceful. 

    "To [Luigi Zortea] we owe, among other things, the invention of the white tufts, forest of flowers and birds…in glazed white majolica—one of the gentlest and most poetic inventions." —Domus magazine, December 1950

    Gio Ponti recognized Zortea’s talent as early as 1937 when his magazine first featured a photograph of one of the artist’s wall lights in the form of a bounty of ivory-colored flowers with small bird figures interspersed, similar to the present lot. For over a decade, not only did Ponti market Zortea’s work to his readers but he also employed Zortea to create works based on his designs. The architect selected many of these designs for his interiors including those for the Cremaschi apartment in Milan—even photographing this living room, which displayed a similar wall-mounted sculpture, for the cover of the February 1949 issue of Domus—and for the Conte Biancamano, Conte Grande, and Giulio Cesare ocean liners.

     

    Left: Cover of Domus, no. 233 (December 1950) depicting the entryway to Gio Ponti’s Casa Creamaschi, which included a similar work in the wall niche alongside the staircase. Image: © Editoriale Domus S.p.A. Right: The interior of first-class salon of the Giulio Cesare ocean liner, which featured an illuminated display case of works by artists such as Paolo Venini, Paolo de Poli, Fausto Melotti, and Luigi Zortea.
    Cover of Domus, no. 233 (December 1950) depicting the entryway to Gio Ponti’s Casa Creamaschi, which included a similar work in the wall niche alongside the staircase. Image: © Editoriale Domus S.p.A.

    A label and signature on the reverse indicate that the present lot was produced for the Artigianato Produzione Esportazione Milano (A.P.E.M.), an organization formed in the 1940s by the department store La Rinascente under the direction of Gio Ponti. In addition to showcasing works by artists like Ponti and Zortea, the organization sought to promote Italian wares abroad, especially in the United States. The sculptural beauty of the present wall lights demonstrates why these works achieved international recognition in the 1940s and, perhaps more importantly, why they remain just as striking today.

    • Condition Report

    • Description

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    • Literature

      "Le ceramiche," Domus, no. 115, July 1937, p. 15 for a similar example
      "Elementi di un ingresso," Domus, no. 233, February 1949, front cover for a similar example

Property from the Estate of Arthur Blane Gresham, Texas

7

Pair of rare wall lights

circa 1949
Glazed earthenware.
Each approximately: 21 1/2 x 9 3/4 x 5 1/4 in. (54.6 x 24.8 x 13.3 cm)
Produced by Artigianato Produzione Esportazione Milano, Milan, Italy. Reverse of each signed ZORTEA/PER/A.P.E.M. and one wall light with paper label printed A.P.E.M/Milano - Via Rovani, 2. Together with a certificate of expertise from the Gio Ponti Archives.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$15,000 - 20,000 

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Design

New York Auction 7 December 2021