Like a great many Italians of his generation (and beyond), Piero Fornasetti was an artist who thought like a designer. Although he conceived of himself as a fine artist, it is only in collaboration with Gio Ponti, the pope of Milanese design, that he developed the motifs and tendencies for which he has become so popular today. Certainly, his sources are from the avant-garde: he drew inspiration from the uncanny ‘metaphysical paintings” of Giorgio Di Chirico, and his montaged mysteriousness, dot-matrix aesthetic, and fetishization of 19th Century obsolescence (the “old-timey” quality) owe a great deal to the French Surrealist journals of the 1920s, which regularly appropriated the imagery of antiquated science periodicals like La Nature. In the 50s he first hit upon the motif that would meld these elements in such an enduringly agreeable fashion: an image of a woman’s face, called ‘Theme and Variations’, based on a portrait of early 20th Century opera star Lina Cavalieri. Cavalieri’s storied beauty provided the exquisite corpse, or at least la faccia, to be carved up and dished out on a thousand design objects—often literally, on porcelain plates. Our Fornasetti prints feature suggestive sections of the famous face—fragments all the more suggestive for their implacable ambiguity of expression. The vitality of the nose and mouth—once outshined by the glamor of the eyes—have been revealed in an age of masks. As for the message behind the mouth, not unlike another enigmatic smile of Italian extraction, Lina’s lips are sealed.