While in Melbourne last year, we were fortunate to see the Liquid Light: 500 years of Venetian Glass exhibition at the NGV. The island of Murano in Venice has been home for hundreds of years to local artisans who have created the world famous Venetian glass. Evidence of glassmaking in Venice has been found as early as the 7th century but it wasn’t until the mid 15th century that Murano glassmaker Angelo Barovier produced a new glass formula, named cristallo, for its resemblance to rock crystal. The elaborate designs and vibrant colours have changed over the years but the exquisiteness is a constant.
A new form of decoration called vetro a filigrana (filigree glass) emerged in the mid 16th century. Canes of white glass are embedded into the cristallo, the result is stunning.
Another process that was developed around this time produced an opaque white glass, known as lattimo. It became popular in the 18th century when it was used to imitate porcelain.
The earlier wine glasses weren’t a lot different to those we use today,
except for the goblets with the ornately embellished stems. I would be very nervous drinking my wine from one of these.
The Venetian glass industry suffered a decline in the 17th century in the wake of a financial crisis following the Italian plague of 1629-1631. A less expensive version of Venetian-style glass emerged and undercut the market for the authentic cristallo. Things went from bad to worse with the Napoleonic Wars and the industry all but collapsed by the mid 19th century. Fortunately, in 1866, The Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company Ltd. was established and the glass making techniques of the 16th and 17th centuries were revived. It seemed that vases and jugs took on a simpler form
although the same can’t be said for this candelabrum.
Moving into the 20th century, the same techniques were used to produce some beautiful, elegant pieces. Designed by Swedish Tyra Lundgren in 1938, this leaf dish is made with very fine vetro a fili decoration (white glass threads).
In the 1960s, Dale Chihuly was one of the first Americans to study glassmaking in Venice and in 1969, established the Pilchuk Glass School in Washington where he worked with Toots Zynsky and Richard Marquis. Chihuly began his Macchia series in the 1980s, named for the speckled effect of colours in the shell-like forms (macchia is Italian for spot).
The vivid colours of the fine glass canes in this fascinating piece by Toots Zynsky were inspired by the plumage of exotic African birds.
The name of the Marquiscarpa series is a combination of Richard’s surname and that of Carlo Scarpa to pay homage to the Italian architect. The footed platters have an intriguing mosaic appearance, created using glass canes sliced into cross sections.
In the 21st century, the Venetian glass industry has to compete with the incursion of cheaper imports. Hopefully, ongoing collaborations between Muranese workshops and outside artists will secure its future.