Paolo Tommasi was born in Ancona on 29 June 1928.
His early years were marked by the war, by his father’s deportation and death in the Mauthausen concentration camp. This left an indelible mark on his reserved, reflexive nature and conditioned his development. He abandoned his engineering studies in Bologna and moved to Rome to enroll in architecture school, receiving his degree in 1956. During this period he also cultivated a passion for theater and painting. In 1952 he joined the Compagnia dell’Opera dei Burattini, founded by Maria Signorelli, with whom he went on numerous tours throughout Europe, becoming known for his original stagings of the “game of life.” He then specialized in acting and directing, attending the Accademia d’arte drammatica “Pietro Sharoff” and the Teatro Ateneo; he also acted in a theater company directed by the actor Sergio Tofano. In 1957 he began working with the set and costume designer Giulio Coltellacci, on a production of Othello starring Vittorio Gassman and Salvo Randone, and on Pietro Francisci’s Hercules, a “sword and sandal” drama. In 1962 Coltellacci and Tommasi would travel the world together. In 1958 Tommasi had his first exhibition in Paris and the following year exhibited in Rome, at the Galleria L’Obelisco, run by Irene Brin and Gaspero del Corso. More exhibitions followed, in New York (Bianchini Gallery, 1961-64) and in Japan (1966). In 1963 he accompanied Miriam Novithc, a Holocaust historian, on a journey through the Nazi concentration camps of Europe. This experience resulted in a profound existential crisis that he was able to process only through his encounters with India and with Jungian psychoanalysis. Paolo Tommasi the man and the artist has found constant redemption in an inner quest. He began dividing his activity between interior architecture, design, theater and painting. His clients have included leading figures in the worlds of performance and international fashion, from Marcello Mastroianni to the Carita sisters. For the latter, he created the renowned Maison de Beauté in Paris, which opened in 1967. Working in the world of cinema, he was one of the set designers for Let’s Talk About Men, directed by Lina Wertmüller in 1965, and the set and costume designer for Oh, Grandmother’s Dead, directed by Mario Monicelli in 1968. It was at this time that the architect Antonio Tocchi came to work in Tommasi’s studio, marking the beginning of an enduring and fruitful professional association. The monograph Architetture di Paolo Tommasi (Rome, 1979) illustrates some of their designs, with furnishings manufactured and distributed by MOLLI s.p.a. under the brand names DELTA and ARMON. These expressions of Italian design have received various accolades, including the “Design Source Spec Neocon Award” (Chicago, 1983, 1984). In 1975 Tommasi exhibited once again at the Galleria L’Obelisco, showing paintings that evoked silence and infinity, connected to the purity of proportions, and with iconographies similar to the mandala, which can be seen as his symbol image. In 1973 his set and costume designs for Giradoux’s TheMadwoman of Chaillot marked the beginning of a fervid collaboration with the director Giancarlo Cobelli. Their numerous stagings include Carlo Gozzi’s Turandot, produced in 1981 at the Teatro Goldoni in Venice, and which received three UBU Awards (respectively for best production, direction and set design). Tommasi’s innovative contributions to set and costume design for the most important theaters in Italy — from the ancient amphitheaters in Verona and Siracusa to the Maggio Musicale in Florence, from La Scala in Milan to stagings of musicals at the Teatro Sistina in Rome — have been instrumental to some of the successes by directors such as Albertazzi, Enriquez, Squarzina, Gassman, Garinei, Calenda, Pagliaro, Sepe, Lavia and Missiroli. In 1985 these plaudits earned him the “Premio Armando Curcio per il Teatro”; in 1986 the city of Ancona granted him honorary citizenship.
In 2010 Paolo Tommasi decided to close his studio and concentrate on his devotion to India, the country where he had established a profound connection dating back to the 1960s, and where he now spends much of his time. In any case, behind this biography there hovers a truth that Anton Chekhov brought into focus, stating that “Every person lives his real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy.”
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