Artisti Barovier and the Genesis of 20th Century Murano Art Glass

by Jim Oliveira

With the founding of Artisti Barovier in 1896, brothers Giuseppe and Benvenuto Barovier were destined to change the course of glassblowing on the island of Murano. At first the brothers produced thinly blown vessels in the classical Renaissance style, but by the turn of the century their ambitions had become more avant-garde.

In 1913 Giuseppe, who had already distinguished himself as one of the most creative and technically accomplished masters on the island, began to work in collaboration with two young Venetian avant-garde artists: Teodoro Wolf-Ferrari and Vittorio Zecchin.  As members of the Ca’ Pesaro group, Wolf-Ferrari and Zecchin were heavily influenced by French Art Nouveau and, above all else, Viennese Secessionism. This ran in stark contrast to Venetian taste which, even at this late date, was focused on its own past rather than new artistic ideas from the outside world.

Heavily influenced by Gustav Klimt’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale of 1910, Zecchin and Wolf-Ferrari approached their friend Giuseppe Barovier with a series of bold new designs for vases and plaques to be executed in the mosaic technique. This technique, which had been mastered by Barovier, lent itself especially well to the Secessionist style favored by the young painters. Crafted after hours at the Artisti Barovier furnace, these brilliant collaborations were exhibited at three important exhibitions in quick succession: Munich in 1913, the Palazzo Ducale in Venice in 1914, and later the same year at the Venice Biennale. 

Today it is hard to overestimate the significance of this group of mosaic vases—not only are they masterworks of 20th Century applied art, they also established the technical and aesthetic blueprint which the Baroviers would follow, enrich and expand over the next seven decades. Finally, it can also be said that these pieces represent the beginning of a new period in the history of creative glassblowing on Murano, and in the world in general as they presage an era of collaboration between fine art designers and Murano’s master craftsmen.