When people talk about Italian art glass, they are usually referring to the vases, paperweights, goblets, and decorative objects produced in the city of Venice and the adjacent island of Murano. Indeed, Murano is the heart of Italian glassmaking, the place where, in the late 13th century, glassmakers were banished lest their furnaces catch the rest of Venice on fire.
Even though the middle of the 19th century was a time of much innovation for Venetian and Murano artisans, the periods of interest to most collectors of antique and vintage Italian art glass are the years between the two world wars and the post-war decades of the 1950s and 1960s.
Ercole Barovier was perhaps the most influential figure of the 1920s and 1930s. His family’s glassmaking roots went all the way back to the Renaissance, and his family’s first company, Artisti Barovier, was established in 1878. In 1920, the firm changed its name to Vetreria Artistica Barovier & Co., which lasted until its merger with Ferro Toso in 1936.
Before Ercole Barovier took over the firm’s designs, his family’s company hired some of the best glass masters in Murano, including future Venini legend Vittorio Zecchini. For Barovier, Zecchini created murrine mosaic paintings on the sides of vases. Other examples combine several techniques—for example, a murrine goblet depicting flowers against a blue-sky background might have a very traditional, decorative Venetian knob between the goblet’s bowl and foot.
For its part, Ferro Toso was known in the 1920s and early 1930s for vases that combined classic Venetian forms with bold coloration. Toso’s Primavera series from this period is particularly prized, as are the pieces that were made using a new technique developed by Toso for coloring hot glass.
The post-war years were unquestionably Murano’s most glorious period. In the 1940s, Barovier & Toso produced thick, clear pieces with textured surfaces called Lenti, as well as the exceptional and highly colorful vases in the now-rare Oriente series. In the 1950s, Barovier & Toso would introduce flat-side cylindrical vases in basketweave cane patterns or checkerboard designs.
Seguso Vetri d’Arte was another firm that made strides in the 1930s but really came into its own after the war. Some of its thick, organic-shaped vases were three-sided, others w...
Of the post-war Murano glass factories, Venini is perhaps the most highly regarded, and certainly the best known. In addition to boasting the talents of Paolo Venini himself, who perfected the sommerso technique in the 1930s and used the traditional technique of inciso to create vases that appeared to glow from within, the company attracted architects and artists such as Carlo Scarpa, Fulvia Bianconi, and Gio Ponti to Murano.
Scarpa was considered the Frank Lloyd Wright of glass, which is to say that he injected modernism into the look of this traditional medium. After Scarpa left Venini in the 1940s to devote himself to architecture, his son, Tobia, joined the firm. Bianconi took his background as an illustrator and applied it to glass, using the emphatic forms produced by Venini’s glassblowers as armatures for his witty explorations of color—patchworks, horizontal stripes, and polka dots were particular favorites.
Ponti was an architect by training but Venini brought out the painter in him. For Venini, he designed flared vases constructed of nothing but multi-colored lengths of cane, or bottles wrapped in frilly spirals to suggest the lines of a skirt. Even his most ostensibly conservative pieces contained colorful twists, such as a bulbous-bottomed bottle whose body is perfectly bisected by a shift from red to green.
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Recent News: Murano and Italian Art Glass
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Artful LivingScene, April 1st
Murano glass cufflinks in aqua green stone and chrome. Crafted in Italy for XMI Platinum collection. Other color combinations of blues, tans and reds available. $89.50 from Bill Paul Ltd., Neenah. billpaulltd.com. blueshorts, Blue & cream Aztec print...Read more
Top 10 things to do in VeniceExpress.co.uk, April 1st
1. Piazza San Marco seems to be where all life meets in Venice – in fact Napoleon apparently referred to it as the 'drawing room of Europe'. It might be a tad touristy and filled with pigeons, but it's also flanked with absolutely stunning buildings...Read more
PANDORA Jewelry's Spring Collection Flourishes This Season with Floral DesignsVirtual Press Office (press release), March 31st
Add a touch of glitter with a solitary white primrose ring or matching stud earrings for a simple, sophisticated spring look. Vivid Murano glass charms with tiny white daisies captivate the warmth of the season in a delightful pairing of color and...Read more
Hotel Tivoli: An Artists' Escape in the Hudson ValleyCondé Nast Traveler, March 31st
Out went all the dark Victorian furniture; in came lipstick-red chairs, vintage Murano glass chandeliers, bold carpets, plush pink sofas, an elegant bar, and of course art by the owners and their friends, including Robert Rauschenberg and Francesco...Read more
Frank Lloyd Wright's Old Plaza Suite Now Wants $39.5MCurbed NY, March 30th
And "the home's spirit of comfortable elegance" is best captured in the "lavender master bedroom, with its Murano-glass chandelier, striped canopy bed, and mirrored side tables." And that art you see? Oh, just the work of Willem de Kooning, Jean...Read more
Art Consultant Rachael Barret... My Favourite ThingsJamaica Observer, March 28th
Murano glass. The art of glassmaking on the Venetian island of Murano is centuries old and I love the way they fuse colour and texture into the innovative hand-blown shapes. I collect Murano glass and these pieces are among my favourites in terms of...Read more
Designers create ball-worthy footwear inspired by 'Cinderella'The Providence Journal, March 28th
(And, yes, it is possible — Q by Pasquale made wearable shoes out of Murano glass in 2010.) The shoes will be available at Saks Fifth Avenue department stores in New York City and Beverly Hills sometime in March, as well as in some of the designers...Read more
Palma's New Sant Francesc Hotel, La Perla Menswear, a Murano Glass Pop-Up ...Wall Street Journal, March 26th
THE HOTEL // Making over Mallorca. The face of Mallorca is changing now that the 5-star Sant Francesc Hotel Singular, opening this week, has arrived in Palma's historic center. This serene 42-room former townhouse is decked out with stunning restored ...Read more