To Imitate, Master and Surpass

by Jim Oliveira

It can be said that there are three great periods in the history of Italian glassmaking. The first took place during the Roman era when glass blowing was discovered and spread quickly throughout the empire. The second occurred during the Renaissance when the power of the Venetian Republic and the technical virtuosity of its master glassblowers were at their zenith. The third great period of Italian glassmaking began at the end of the 19th Century when Murano’s glassblowers were attempting to re-discover and re-create all the techniques developed during the Roman era and high Renaissance, a seemingly impossible task that they miraculously achieved in a few short decades.

The slumped bowl by Vincenzo Moretti presented here perfectly illustrates this dynamic. In 1866, Moretti, a self-taught glass technician, was hired by the newly founded Salviati Company. After examining shards of Roman and Alexandrian glass, he created the first murrine vessels in almost two thousand years. This bowl, composed of fused polichrome canes and murrines, was crafted with such mastery and attention to detail that it is virtually indistinguishable from earlier Roman models. Many of the other pieces presented here express both in form and technique the same intention: to imitate, master and surpass. It should also be noted that by the end of the 19th Century, Venice was undergoing a profound cultural transformation as thousands of wealthy British, American and Continental tourists were pouring into the Veneto. This was all made possible due to the fact that Venice, after two centuries of decline and five decades of Austrian occupation, had now become part of the newly founded Kingdom of Italy and was reaping the benefits of foreign investment capital. It is worth noting that the success of author John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice (1851–53) also played an important role in the island’s newfound popularity. Catering to the tastes of this new class of nostalgic tourists, Venetians became adept in selling the romantic idea of “past as present”, and hence glass in the Roman and Renaissance style was wildly popular.

But this was just the beginning of a new era of art glass design and production on the island of Murano. As the 19th Century drew to a close, a new generation of young artists, designers and master blowers were about to take center stage at the newly formed Artisti Barovier and change the history of Murano Glass forever