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Dressing a diva: the art of crafting a legend of the silver screen

Rare archival images of the Institute of Theatre and Opera of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and costumes by world-renowned master tailor Stefano Nicolao, honour legendary Italian actress Lyda Borelli

Lyda Borelli - ©Kaulak

• The exhibition displays a selection of costumes, videos, images and documents from the archives of the Institute of Theatre and Opera of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini

• Some of the costumes, a copy of those worn by Lyda Borelli, recreated by Stefano Nicolao, Venice-based master costume-maker for stage and film, by appointment for the Institute of Theatre and Opera. Collectively, shed light on creating the allure of a diva

• The ground breaking theatre career of Lyda Borelli, wife of Vittorio Cini, is explored in light of her image as a modern woman of the belle époque




Dressing a Diva is curated by the Institute of Theatre and Opera of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, a non-profit cultural institution based in Venice, which is also the site of Homo Faber. The exhibition draws on the remarkable archives of its Institute of Theatre and Opera including those of important set designers, directors and actors of the 20th century.

The Institute houses a collection of images and materials that illustrate the ground breaking career of Lyda Borelli. Known as a legendary actress of silent films, her image as a modern woman in the early 20th century was forged in part by the characters she played on stage and on film. But she was also one of the first female theatre company leaders in Italy.

Dressing a Diva displays a selection of Nicolao’s original costumes created by appointment for the Institute of Theatre and Opera to celebrate the early 20th century actress Lyda Borelli, wife of Vittorio Cini, who founded the Fondazione Giorgio Cini.

In addition to the beautiful costumes, the exhibition displays videos, images and archival material from the Foundation’s Institute of Theatre and Opera, revealing the fine craftsmanship behind creating the allure of a diva. Based in the heart of Venice, Master tailor Stefano Nicolao has been making period costumes for theatre, opera, ballet, film and television productions all over the world for more than four decades.

“The art and charm of Lyda Borelli left a permanent impression on the theatre scene and style of the early 20th century.” – Curator and Professor of theatre studies Maria Ida Biggi (Director of the Institute of Theatre and Opera)

Dressing a Diva is set in Eleonora Duse’s room at Fondazione Giorgio Cini. It is one of 17 exhibitions that comprise Homo Faber, organised by the Michelangelo Foundation.


Lyda Borelli - ©Kaulak Notes for editors
Homo Faber
Crafting a more human future
Fondazione Giorgio Cini, San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice
Register for tickets at homofaberevent.com


Homo Faber is the main event organised by the Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship, an international non-profit organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland, which was set up to celebrate and preserve master craftsmanship around the world and strengthen its connection to design. Rooted in a tradition of culture and excellence and in the realities and challenges of today’s global economy, the foundation aims to support those who dedicate themselves to the pursuit of master craftsmanship and to foster a new cultural movement built around the values that are essential for their work. The Foundation focuses on Europe as a starting point for its activities, in recognition that craftsmanship has been a vital part of the economic and cultural fabric of the region for centuries, providing both a rich heritage and a competitive advantage in a global world. michelangelofoundation.org

Institute of Theatre and Opera is part of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, an institution based on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Its undertaking is to research the history of performing arts, such as actors, opera, dance, stage design, theatrical and musical iconography. Under the direction of Maria Ida Biggi, the Institute strives to preserve and promote its invaluable archive collections.

Stefano Nicolao is a master tailor and costume maker who founded his own atelier in 1980 in Venice. For decades, Nicolao’s extraordinary costumes have appeared on stage at Venice’s great theatres, La Fenice, Veneto Teatro Stabile and Verona's Arena, as well as in film and television productions around the world. They are collected by such institutions as the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He has been named a Masters of Arts and Crafts (Maestro d'Arte e Mestiere or MAM in Italian), an award given to "living national treasures" of Italian savoir- faire.


Collaborating on Homo Faber with the Michelangelo Foundation are partner organisations that share its vision including: the Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, and The Japan Foundation.

Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte
The Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte is a private, non-profit institution founded in 1995. Based in Milan, it promotes cultural, scientific and educational initiatives for the protection and diffusion of artistic crafts. The Fondazione Cologni’s mission is to inspire a “new Renaissance” of the artistic crafts and rescue them from the threat of extinction. Many of its initiatives focus on young people and training future generations of artisans. fondazionecologni.it

Fondazione Giorgio Cini
The Fondazione Giorgio Cini is a non-profit cultural institution based in Venice, Italy. Established by Vittorio Cini in 1951 with the aim of creating an international cultural centre re-integrating the San Giorgio Maggiore Island into the life of Venice and the region, today it is an important centre of humanistic studies and encourages the creation and development of educational, social, cultural and artistic institutions in the surrounding territory. cini.it

The Japan Foundation
The Japan Foundation, established in 1972, in Tokyo develops international cultural exchange programmes globally. The foundation’s aim is to promote Japanese culture to the world through programmes and activities in the following categories: art, cultural exchange, Japanese-language education and Japanese studies. The foundation has a global network, with 25 overseas branches in 24 countries. As part of their cultural programme, the foundation offers successful applicants support in the form of grants, research scholarships and training opportunities. jpf.go.jp

Lyda Borelli in Malvaloca Actress©Kaulak Sartoria Stefano Nicolao_Susanna Pozzoli©Michelangelo Foundation Sartoria Stefano Nicolao_Susanna Pozzoli©Michelangelo Foundation