If ever a region was going to be recognised as a centre for the creation of decorative glassware produced to the most exacting of standards, then it was going to be Italy – and Venice in particular – home of some of the most exquisitely fabricated pieces borne from a 500 year history of expertise and craftsmanship.
Some notable producers of 20th century art glass can trace their roots back through the twists and turns of an industry dating to the renaissance, with Ercole Barovier being one such figure. While traditional Murano glass is perhaps known for its flamboyant form, with serpentine adornments and decorative threads approaching the fineness of filigree wirework and arabesques, more modern Italian Art Glass such as that created by workmen under Barovier’s stewardship shows more of a tendency towards stunning decoration being applied to surfaces rather than elaborate structure.
Zecchini, for instance, is renowned for his creation of “murrine” mosaic-like patterns on the sides of vases or the face of plates and dishes. Textured rather than simply flat surfaces were also explored, with “lenti” pieces using the lenticular nature of facetted glass to produce stunning refractive effects, and vases made to approximate wicker or basketweave cane patterns were also popular.
Vetri d’Arte and Salvati were the two firms who lead Italian glass production through the heady days of the 1930’s and beyond as the art glass movement gathered momentum. The use of distorted forms and shapes was their forte, but the use of surface decoration was also writ large in their portfolio, with the faces of many pieces assuming the role of canvases for the reproduction of extravagantly coloured designs encompassing the abstract and impressionistic aesthetic of mid-century modern art.
Post-war, Paolo Venini’s manufactory came to the fore, using innovative sommerso and inciso techniques to produce some stunning vases which gave the impression of being illuminated from inside. Similar methods were used by later designers such as Gio Ponti to produce pieces which featured the apparently seamless transition from one colour to another as their main facet – graduations which seemed to shift and flow depending on the perspective from which you looked at the piece. Such subtleties would, though, make an abrupt counterpoint to other more strident explorations of colour which tended towards modernistic, pop-art themes – brash stripes, patchworks, checkerboards and polkadots, and pieces made from compressed, coloured canes, interwoven broader strands and fused panels of smooth or textured glass.
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