An Italian bottle for you to admire today, which is notable, more than anything else, for the rich provenance of the thought process behind its production. Not only is it based on a design by Gio Ponti, one of the true giants of 20th century design across so many disciplines, but he in turn was inspired by one of his country’s most revered artists, Giorgio Morandi. Throw in the codas that it was produced in a factory under the auspices of a renowned glassmaker (Paolo Venini), which was sited at one of the most celebrated locations in the history of the craft (Murano) and you have a masterpiece in waiting, before you even consider the actual form of the artefact itself. For my part, I think all of this makes it an absolutely stunning object, but I’m easily pleased (to be fair, I’m genuinely excited having discovered that you can get prawn cocktail flavoured Quavers during this evening’s on-line shop), so read on and see if you can empathise with my state of awestruck veneration (for the bottle that is, not the Quavers).


It’s to Morandi the artist to whom we must first turn in order to discern the genesis of the piece. Born in Bologna in 1890, he was educated in strictly classical styles courtesy of a traditional and restrictive curriculum at the city’s Accademia di Belle Arti but having graduated he immediately divested himself of such would-be innovatory shackles and aligned himself with the contemporary futurist, metaphysical and minimalist schools which prospered across Europe. Without wandering off too far into an explanation of these artistic tenets, Morandi explored the paring down of subject matter to its constituent parts – the representation of objects by the illustration of their abridged essence – bear with me, and you’ll see how this relates to our bottle in due course…


Gio Ponti was, by contrast, far from simple. He was an almost unfeasibly creative talent, who excelled in such disparate fields as architecture, interior design, catechetical writing, and the decorative arts whilst – at all times – acting as the leading advocate for Italy’s creative crafts and sciences in all their manifestations. From cutlery to doorknobs to ceramic sanitaryware, to soaring tower blocks that still dominate the skylines of Italy’s major cities, Ponti seemingly had a hand in everything. From our perspective he also, fortunately, spent some considerable time designing products to be produced in glass, taking his inspiration for a significant proportion of his output from the still life works of Morandi.


Our artist friend pursued, it must be said, a modest canon; he almost compulsively drew and re-drew very similar compositions of vases, bowls and bottles, aiming for the perfect minimalist representation of his subject matter. So prolific was he that around 1,500 separate works are attributed to him, many of which are achingly repetitious to the untrained eye. His style looks somewhat naïve and lacking in detail, but that’s what his work was about – looking past the ‘clutter’ of appearance to the elemental form; bottles, for instance, had a body, a neck and a finish – that’s all you had to draw to impart everything that was needed to define, well, a bottle. This of course sounds rather obvious but consider the alternative – artists who spent hours painstakingly replicating what? The contorted reflections in the impossibly curved glass, the luminescence and lustre of the material itself, the details on a label or a cork, the effervescence of countless bubbles – that was all just so much needless frippery to Morandi – your bottle just needs a top, a middle and a bottom – that’ll do!


Clearly, this approach resonated with Ponti, who embraced Morandi’s ideals when he was approached to design glassware for Venini’s workshop. The result is a range known as ‘Bottiglia Morandiane” – the bottles of Morandi. Now, these require a bit of lateral thinking to appreciate in context, as they are by no means plain, or simple, or un-patterned or colourless, but they do seem to emphasise the nature of the parts from which they are constructed – extended necks, distended or elongated bodies, overtly obvious bases. Such emphases are made not just by form alone but are even further enhanced by the colouration and pattern; let’s split the bottle up into sections by making them different colours – let’s emphasise its shape by repeating its outline and profile with stripes that run from top to bottom; it’s Morandi’s simplicity but given a crazy designer’s twist. Ponti’s own personal contribution to the range – and something which is completely omitted in many of Morandi’s originals – is the inclusion of a very obvious, often oversized stopper, but of course, with practicality to the fore in the mind of a designer rather than an artist, what use would even the most perfectly of executed bottles have been without some sort of facility to keep its contents safe? In the end, for Ponti, functionality does have to share at least an equal billing with form – though I suspect that Morandi would beg to differ, and that’s a debate that I would love to overhear!