“Knowledge of the past gives birth to new ideas and creates new forms of beauty”

Antonio Ratti

On Sunday October 1st 2017, “Textile as Art: Antonio Ratti, Entrepreneur and Patron” will open at Palazzo Te in Mantua. The exhibition examines the life and work of Antonio Ratti, the Como industrialist who created both an internationally recognised textile company and foundation, equating production and creativity in business with art and culture.

The exhibition is produced by the Comune di Mantova, the Centro Internazionale d’Arte e di Cultura di Palazzo Te, and the Museo Civico di Palazzo Te. It has been created in collaboration with the Fondazione Antonio Ratti and is curated by Lorenzo Benedetti, Annie Ratti, and Maddalena Terragni.


The life of Antonio Ratti weaves together business and art, creativity and cultural activities, public and private. Ratti’s vision was founded on the idea that culture, knowledge and art are fundamental tools for understanding one’s own time.

This passion led Ratti, at the mere age of thirty, to transform a drawing studio into a business: he founded the “Tessitura Serica Antonio Ratti” [the Silk Mill of Antonio Ratti] in 1945 to create, market and sell fabrics for ties and scarves. It was the first step in a long and gradual business venture that would result in the Ratti Group. The Ratti Group continues to be a world-renowned producer of textiles designed with intense creativity and technological research and is today run by Ratti’s daughter Donatella.

The exhibition intends to paint a portrait of this distinguished and elegant, multi-faceted and eclectic man who, by investing in the education of human resources and the valorisation of textiles as art, emphasized the quality of his textiles. High quality, experimentation and innovation are the defining characteristics that distinguish the work of Antonio Ratti. These characteristics are shown throughout the course of the exhibition by establishing a dialogue between Ratti’s textiles and the monumental rooms of Palazzo Te, which then continues into the exhibition spaces of the Fruttiere.

Thanks to the contribution of the architect Philippe Rahm, the exhibition shows textiles in their various forms: from the abundant Fondazione Antonio Ratti (FAR) collection of ancient fabrics to the vast archives of the Ratti company. Visitors will engage in a tactile experience with the various textiles as they will be displayed on a central runway in the spaces of the Fruttiere, thereby restoring a synesthetic idea of textiles.

The company’s historic products will be presented through a grand display that looks back to two noteworthy exhibitions: “Ratti & Paisley: the culture of cashmere” (1986, Fashion Institute, New York) and “Ratti & Paisley” (1988, Bunka Fashion College, Tokyo). The work by Luigi Ontani is connected to the precious products on display: among them is an Ontani watercolour design printed on cotton and reprinted by Ratti S.p.A., thus reviving a collaborative project between the artist and the company from the nineties.

A part of the exhibition is dedicated to the history of the company whose identity is tied to the location of its production plant in the modern building in Guanzate designed by Tito Spini and inaugurated in 1958. Spini’s building exemplified a new model of industrial architecture that aimed to create the ideal working conditions for maintaining the quality of the product in an ever expanding and dynamic world. In this new factory, Antonio Ratti’s vision took hold and the company’s complete cycle of textile production occurred in one place. The Palazzina dei Servizi Sociali – a multifunctional and multimedia place designed especially for Ratti’s employess – hosted important cultural and artistic events, workshops, theatrical productions and concerts. Photographs taken by the industrial photographer Roberto Zabban immortalize the production plant at Guanzate, the historic villa and headquarters on Lake Como, and some of the concerts held by the company.

An important series of drawings by Antonio Ratti links the story of his company to the FAR collection of ancient textiles. The medium of drawing is understood in various ways: through freehand sketches, technical drawings, and textile projects in and of themselves. This section of the exhibit demonstrates both the underlying traditional process and the complete production cycle of a textile.

In the sixties and seventies, Antonio Ratti’s passion for textiles in all its forms in different eras and geographical areas led him to create a private textile collection. Intended as a tool for study, research and inspiration, it was continually enhanced through company acquisitions of historic businesses operating within the textile industry. In the exhibition, visitors can admire a rich selection of pieces from this historical collection, now owned by the Fondazione: from coptic and pre-Columbian textiles to Renaissance velvets, French and English silks of the 17th and 18th centuries, and ties and ribbons of the late 19th century.

In 1985, Antonio Ratti’s desire to transform his passion for art and textiles into an institution active in the world of culture gave birth to the Fondazione that bears his name. The Foundation continues to be a tool for the promotion and promulgation of culture, and is currently run by Ratti’s daughter Annie. In the following years the Foundation founded the Museo Studio del Tessuto and realized a multimedia catalogue of the FAR collection. Through activities such as the Advanced Course in Drawing and then the Advanced Course in Visual Arts, now CSAV – Artists Research Laboratory, the Foundation has created spaces in which young international artists as well as important figures in the contemporary art world can further their own research whilst working together within the Fondazione.

Antonio Ratti promoted textiles in all its forms: he emphasized the history and tradition of textiles in diverse cultures throughout the world and envisioned new technological and geopolitical production frontiers.

Over the years Ratti supported important exhibitions and museum projects, making several exhibitions on textiles and its history possible. In 1995, he financially sponsored the creation of one of the first centres dedicated to the research and restoration of textiles at the Metropolitan Museum of New York: the Antonio Ratti Textile Center.

Contemporary art is present in the exhibition through works by artists who have been involved with the Fondazione’s numerous cultural activities throughout the past decades. Among the artists who have been invited to exhibit are those who have led and participated in past editions of the CSAV – Artists Research Laboratory workshop, including John Armleder, Julia Brown, Jimmie Durham, Hans Haacke, Mario Garcia Torres, Melanie Gilligam, Renée Green, Joan Jonas, Giulio Paolini, Diego Perrone, Yvonne Rainer and Gerhard Richter.

In the outside spaces of Palazzo Te important installations by artists such as Yona Friedman, Richard Nonas, Matt Mullican and Liliana Moro will also be on display. An exhibition catalogue containing various texts and materials related to the history of the company and the Fondazione Antonio Ratti will be published. The publication includes essays analysing Antonio Ratti’s collection of antique textiles, as well as essays by artists who have participated in past editions of the CSAV – Artists Research Laboratory workshop.

The catalogue, undertaken with the support of the Ratti Group and curated by the Fondazione Antonio Ratti, has graphics by Luc Derycke and is published by MER Paper Kunsthalle.

Palazzo Te, 1.10.2017 – 7.1.2018

Monday 13.00 – 19.30
Tuesday to Sunday
9.00 – 19.30
(last entrance 18.30)

From Sunday 29th October 2017:
Mondays 13.00 – 18.30
Tuesday to Sunday
9.00 – 18.30
(last entrance 17.30)

Biglietteria Museo Civico
di Palazzo Te
T +39 0376 323266


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