The Swedish Institute in Rome

If you were looking for Swedish rugs, the Swedish Institute in Rome is probably not the first place you would think to look. But founded, constructed and decorated in the 20th century, it is actually a great place to see some of Sweden’s best mid-century weaving.

The Swedish architect Ivar Tengbom made his name designing handsome buildings in a nordic neoclassical style for major Swedish institutions. Towards the end of his career, about 1938, Tengbom was asked to design two other buildings: one, a building to house the Swedish Institute for Classical Studies in Rome and in 1948, a new workshop for the Märta Måås Fjetterström operation in Båstad, on Sweden’s west coast.

Located in the Villa Borghese park at Via Omero 14, the Swedish Institute facilitates the study of the classical world – archaeology, classical studies and art history – by Swedish professors and students. It has a large and handsome library, and can graciously house up to 20 visiting scholars. The institute was founded in 1925 under the auspices of the Swedish prince, Gustaf Adolf, who was himself a professional archaeologist. Many of the directors of the institute have been prominent Swedish archaeologists. The Swedish royal family maintains a commitment to the institute, and the King of Sweden serves as Chairman of the foundation of “Friends” which supports it financially.

The Institute building was set on a rise, and enclosed a small courtyard which itself had a small fountain and sculpture by Carl Milles, renowned Swedish sculptor. The furnishing of the interiors was also meant to represent the best of Swedish design of the time. The team for these included Elsa Gullberg (1886-1984) as general coordinator, Carl Malmsten (1888-1972) as furniture designer, Märta Måås Fjetterström (1873-1941)for carpets, and Maja Sjöström (1868-1961). Sjöström’s role is less clear —was it as supervisor of on-site installation? From 1916-1923, she had designed textiles for Stockholm’s new city hall, including an impressive 19-meter tapestry, and several in brocades woven by Italian textile companies, but after 1926 and up to her death, she was living in Rome,with some designing for Italian textile firms.

The Institute today was furnished much as it was in 1940, despite some minor furniture rearrangement. Recently published color photographs by Swedish photographer Åke Eriksson Lindman, show how well the design of the building and its furnishings have stood the test of time. Many of the MMF rugs appear to be still in place, although there seem to have been one or two new substitutions.The “Rutig” rugs and the library rug are “halv-flossa” rugs, which have hand knotted pile with rölakan or flat woven areas defining the pile sections; the “Skvattan” is called a “relief flossa.”

But about 1940, photographs of the interior were taken by an well-known Italian photographic firm, Vasari. It is interesting to look now at these B&W photos and identify the MMF rugs which were provided for the different rooms. In several cases, color is a question, but if Lindman’s color photographs show original rugs – or if there were replacements and they were made to the original models- then we have a good sense of how the rooms were originally furnished.

The images that follow show the principal rooms of the Institute and identify the rugs in each room.  The links that follow several of the archival photographs are to the Lindeman color photographs of these rooms.

  1. Ante room (that is, off the front hall, and before entering the living room):

CC rum med matta ROME2

MMF Rutig Bla 1938
 Märta Måås Fjetterström,“Rutig blå,” Halv-flossa, designs 1938. This example is 202.5 cm x 328.5 (79-3/4” x 129- 3/8”) sold in the Phillips Design Auction London 4/29/14, lot # 115. It appears to be the same size as the one shown in the photographs of the Swedish Institute, i.e. 6 x10 or 11 squares.

2) Sitting room with sofa:

CC SI i Rom Moblerat rum med soffaARKM.1984-102-1350

Märta Måås Fjetterström, “Korgmattan”,(Basketweave), rölakan, 1936. This example is from the MMF website, and is 177 x 240 cm and has a pattern of 5 x 7 woven squares, and is an ABMMF rug (ie, after 1941). The one shown in the Swedish Institute photograph has 6 by at least 9 squares and would have had the MMF signature.

3) Room with desks:

CC SI rum med skrivbordARKM.1984-102-1341
Again, Märta Måås Fjetterström, “Korgmattan,” rölakan, 1936. The rug shown in the Swedish Institute photograph is a smaller example— in this case 5 x 8 squares, closer to the one shown above.

4) Office

CCSI RomMoberat rum 2

MMF Bla bord mattan 351x253_fullsize
Märta Måås Fjetterström, “Blå bårdmattan,”  rölakan, 1933. This example was sold at Bukowskis 587 Modern auction and is 253 x351 cm. The rug was also made in a lighter tan version, the Ljusa bårdmattan.

5) Living Room:

CCSI Rum med skrivbordARKM.1984-102-1345

shabaz afridi N857-MMF white pile-2.57-x-1.72-metres
Closer to camera, rug: Märta Måås Fjetterström, Skvattram, relief- flossa, 1938. The rug was produced in at least two versions, a slightly pink and a slightly green toned one. It is hard to tell from the Swedish Institute photograph which was used in that space. This example is from Shabaz Afridi, New York and is 172 x 257 cm (5’6” x 8’4”). From the more recent Lindman photographs, this rug appears to have been replaced by MMF’s Ångarna (Meadows) rug, designed in1928.
rutig rod halvflossa philllops 4_29_14
Rug near fireplace: again, Märta Måås Fjetterström, a “Rutig” rug, halv-flossa— but narrower, apparently 4 x 10 or 11 squares. The grey tone of this rug seems lighter than that of the “Rutig blå” rug in the first photo shown on this page. Could it be a “Rutig röd”  rölakan like the one shown here? This example was sold at Phillips Design auction 4/29/14, lot #103, and is much larger than the one in the Swedish Institute photograph at 202.5.328.5 cm (79-3/4”x 129-3/8”)

 To compare Åke Ericsson Lindman recent photograph, Link click here:

6) Library

CCSvenska Intitutet RomARKM.1984-102-1337
Märta Måås Fjetterström, halv-flossa, probably 1930s. I do not know the name of this rug, but it seems to have been contemporary with (and similar in general style to) the Rikdagshusets Gula, shown on p. 129 of the catalog of the 2009-19 Lilevalch’s exhibition, Märta flyer igen! It is a wonderful design with several intense shades of blue, set off with a narrow red line in the white rölakan divisions. The Lindeman photographs of the building show it well. One little note: blue was Maja Sjöström’s favorite color, and her biographer writes that she wrote nostalgic letters home remembering the color of Sweden’s summer flowers, especially the blue of “forget-me-nots” —was it she who requested this blue shade from the MMF workshop for the Swedish Institute library?

 To compare Åke Ericsson Lindman recent photo of library, Link click here:


Digitaltmuseum, for Arkitektur- och designcentrum, archival photographs of Svenska Institute i Rom

Edlund, Ingrid E. M., entry, “Swedish Institute at Rome” in Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archeology, by Nancy Thompson de Grummond, (Routledge, 2015)

Frizzle, Barbro Santillo, and Simon Malmberg, “The Swedish Institute of Classical Studies at Rome”, in Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology (Springer 2014), ed, C. Smith, 7181-7183.

Nord, Kristin, “Maja Sjöström tog Rom till Råå,” in Sydsvenskan (Malmo), Culture & Entertainment Skåne section, 6/24/2012 :–nojen/maja-sjostrom-tog-rom-till-raa/ (visited 3/22/16)

Please reference as follows

Whidden, Anne, “The Swedish Institute in Rome,” theswedishrugblog (March28, 2016);
http://; accessed (month/day/year)


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