Italy's foreign ministry shows off unseen collection

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An armchair shaped like a flower, a sleek black Ducati and mirrors decorated with Italy's flag star in a new Rome exhibition based on a previously unseen collection owned by the foreign ministry.

"Farnesina and its collections," on show in the capital's Ara Pacis museum from Friday, gives visitors a rare chance to see masterworks of Italian design which are usually kept behind closed doors at the ministry.

The collection includes works by some of the biggest names in Italian design, from auto designer Pininfarina - which has worked with Ferrari, Maserati and Jaguar among others - to Artemide modern lighting specialists.

On show is "5 in 1," a collection of glasses which stack into one another to save space, designed by Joe Colombo, a Roman renowned for his innovative furniture, lamps and clocks made for contemporary firms Kartell and Alessi.

Michelangelo Pistoletto's "The Etruscan", a 1976 work in which a bronze Etruscan statue stands before a large mirror, contrasts starkly with "Italia," a mirror by Mariano Moroni in the red, white and green of the national flag.

Nearby, Israeli designer Ron Arad's "Pizzakobra" - a silver lamp made of a flexible pipe that can be wound or twisted to resemble a pizza or a snake - stands taut like a cobra primed for attack.

Japanese-born designer Makio Hasuike, who opened his own design firm in Milan in Italy's northern industrial hub in 1968, pays tribute to the Italian love affair with ice-cream with his rotating gelato display case.

Maurizio Galante's playful "Tattoo" Cactus sofa, its soft covers decorated with photos of prickly plants, stars alongside a 160 horse-power Ducati Diavel motorbike and a multicoloured anemone flower-shaped armchair by Giancarlo Zema.

A section is also dedicated to the imposing Farnesina building housing the ministry, which was built on the banks of the Tiber under Benito Mussolini - who in 1935 rolled up his sleeves and kicked off the construction in person.

The colossal travertine-clad building, with a facade measuring 169 metres (554 feet), was originally designed as the National Fascist Party headquarters. It has been used to house the foreign ministry since 1959.

"The Farnesina palace is a key to understanding the Fascist era and the objects contained within reveal the development of design," Umberto Croppi, Rome's cultural politics director, told press at a preview on Thursday.

From the 1960s onwards, the cavernous spaces inside have been gradually adorned with icons of Italian design from Art Nouveau to Futurism, Arte Povera and the New Roman School - around 100 of which are now going on show.

The exhibition runs from May 20 to July 3.