Was Fortuny influenced by Lord Leighton?

Strolling through the Palazzo Orfei, just before Christmas, I was struck by a painting next to a door, linking the winter garden with the main salone of the house. A magnificent, full-sized portrait of a female warrior, sword in hand, triumphant in her flowing gown. Her hair tumbling over her left shoulder, gorgeous golden tresses, known in Venice as ‘rosso tiziano’, Titian red. The muscular, dynamic pose of the body reminded me of several goddess portraits by Lord Leighton. I thought it would be interesting to consider the portraits side by side.

Firstly, let’s consider the painter Mariano Fortuny an artist, inventor and creative genius. He lived in Palazzo Orfei, Venice with his wife Henriette Negrin. She was a designer and textile expert. Together they created an exceptional artistic environment in the heart of Venice. Palazzo Orfei was their home, workshop, studio and library. Here they designed clothes and theatrical sets. They worked with fabrics and rich textiles to create new and innovative styles. Fortuny painted and devised a new lighting system for theatres, whilst Negrin devised the fabulous and original Delphos gown, inspired by the robes of Ancient Greece.

The Fortuny painting that caught my eye and reminded me of Lord Leighton’s dramatic painting ‘Flaming June’

The painting that caught my eye in Venice and transported me immediately back to London and to a painting by Frederic, Lord Leighton is this one (above). Leighton was a British artist and sculptor. He lived and worked in London, where he was part of the Pre-Raphaelite group of artists. He also travelled extensively and completed his artistic training in Florence and Rome. Leighton became the President of the Royal Academy, London in 1878 and counted Queen Victoria amongst his customers.

If I compare the fluidity of the costumes worn by the Fortuny warrior (above) and the Sleeping Beauty by Leighton (below), the viewer is transported into a dream-like dimension of legends and myths. In both paintings there is a dynamic element, physical movement and advancement in the first painting (by Fortuny) and then the gentle rising and falling of the chest as the resting ‘golden one’ slumbers, in the painting by Leighton (below). In each painting the leather sandals are detailed and elegant, numerous pieces of finely cut leather woven into the most delicate of footwear. I can observe allusion to popular mythology in both paintings. The sword in the top painting and Celtic knot of the blue fabric perhaps suggesting Arthurian legend and maybe the sword represents Excalibur. Whilst Leighton’s painting (below) shows a Mediterranean skyline in the distance, perhaps Greece, possibly the lost island of Atlantis on the horizon. Both paintings are visually joyful and full of colour; orange, red, crimson and gold embrace the viewer. I’m transported into a world of flowing gowns, rich historical symbolism and vibrancy.

There is significant Greek classical influence in both paintings. This was the late 19th century and references to Greek classical architecture and style were everywhere. Trafalgar Square in London displayed Nelson (the great naval admiral) on top of a vast stone column built in the Greek style with a a Corinthian capital. The National Gallery was built in the Greek Revival style too. Meanwhile a few blocks away near Russell Square, The British Museum also echoed the Parthenon in Athens, with its vast columns and temple-style entrance. Greek philosophy, style and architecture were synonymous with education and power.

Greek temples and inspiration from the Greek classical period permeate public buildings from London to Nashville

Frederic, Lord Leighton was one of the most popular London artists of the 19th century. Even Queen Victoria visited him at his Kensington home and studio. He too was seeped in ‘classical’ art and culture. Look at the young women in their Grecian robes (below). Fabrics swirling and blowing in the breeze, creating an imaginary, almost fairy tale scenario. If you compare the paintings below, including Fortuny’s female warrior, there are similarities. The paintings portray the female subjects in a dynamic, dreamlike way. The figures have a sense of power and purpose.

Meanwhile, back in Venice, Mariano Fortuny and his wife Henriette Negrin were inspired by the discovery of a bronze statue in Greece of a charioteer. The statue (pictured below) was dressed in flowing robes. These robes influenced Fortuny and his wife to create the Delphos gown, beloved by socialite ladies from Paris to New York. This offers further evidence of the powerful impact of Greek classicism on European artists in the late 19th century. For the full story of the Delphos gown I suggest you read an article I wrote a year or two ago. Venice – Fashion, Fortuny, Silk dresses and Downton Abbey

The Charioteer of Delphi c. 475 BCE, Delphi Museum, Greece – discovered in 1896

So to go back to the original question, was Mariano Fortuny influenced by Lord Leighton? I think the answer is almost certainly yes. Whilst Mariano Fortuny was just 26 years of age when Frederic Leighton died, it’s highly likely that he knew of Leighton’s work and possibly even met him in Italy towards the end of the older man’s life. Leighton made many visits to Italy including Capri and Naples, Palermo, Rome and Florence. So perhaps the two men did indeed meet.

The 19th century was a period when there was a huge classical art revival, and all things Greek and Roman were revered. In their pursuit of perfection both Leighton and Fortuny found inspiration in Greek stories and architecture. Flowing robes, gods and goddesses featured high in their imaginations. I can imagine them both struggling to achieve perfection in their respective art works. I’m sure that Leighton as The President of the Royal Academy in London would definitely have been Fortuny’s guest of honour at an imaginary dinner party for artists held at Palazzo Orfei!

Cimabue’s Madonna, painting by Frederic Leighton. Painted in Rome: 1853-55. Photo by: Diego Delso – National Gallery, London


  • Lord Leighton was born in England in 1830 and died in London in 1896
  • Mariano Fortuny was born in Spain in 1871. He moved to Venice in 1899 with his wife Henriette Negrin.
  • He died in Venice in 1949
  • Fortuny had a long and varied career. You can read more about Fortuny here: Fortuny, Venice
  • Leighton was a successful artist and sculptor. He adored Europe and travelled extensively across the continent. He had a particular interest in ‘orientalism’ and the beautiful mosaics and ceramics of the Arab world. Leighton House, Kensington, London

  • Leighton was bold with his subject matter, a perfect example of this is Leighton’s monumental Cimabue’s Madonna – a vast canvas 2 metres deep and about 5 metres wide (see above). It hangs in the National Gallery, London
  • Here’s a little more detail on Leighton’s Cimabue’s Madonna – from wikipedia:

8th March 2023

4 thoughts on “Was Fortuny influenced by Lord Leighton?

  1. delightful read, Ive shared with my friends,,,,a perfect subject for March 8-
    I just sent in my latest article for La Loggetta, a local Italian magazine- “Splendidi Soffitti della Tuscia” which might interest your readers – I’ll translate it tomorrow… and put snippets on my social media..

    Liked by 1 person

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