An Icon of Novecento Design

When the sculptor Napoleone Martinuzzi developed Pulegoso glass at Venini in 1928 it expanded the notion of what Murano glass could be. Today we take for granted the fact that Murano glass can be transparent or opaque, thin walled or massively thick, sculptural and at the same time utilitarian, but this was not always the case. 

Martinuzzi's Pulegoso glass technique expanded the notion of what Murano glass could be.

Before Martinuzzi’s tenure as Artistic Director of Venini, Murano glass was primarily known for its lightness and transparency. In fact, Venini had become famous for Vittorio Zecchin’s lightweight, transparent Soffiato glass vessels which were a modernist reinterpretation of Venetian masterworks from the 16th century. With Pulegoso glass, Martinuzzi was able to satisfy his need as a sculptor for mass, density and solidity, while at the same time take advantage of the inherent optical effects created by the opacity of this new glass. These qualities made Pulegoso an excellent material to be used for lighting designs; lamps, appliqués, and chandeliers made of Pulegoso glass became highly fashionable at a time when the young Venini company sorely needed capital. 

A drawing by Martinuzzi illustrating this model
Martinuzzi's rare Pulegoso vases are icons of pre-war Italian art and design.

The vases designed by Martinuzzi in Pulegoso glass were never produced in large numbers. A small group of pieces were made for the Biennale di Venezia in 1928, and for the 4th Triennale di Monza in 1930. Often large-scale, these vases and bowls were based on shapes from classical antiquity. Although these pieces appear in Venini’s production catalogs of the period, very few are known to exist today. They were, perhaps, produced as splendid examples of the superior design and craftsmanship possible at Venini. 

The four handled Pulegoso vase presented here speaks to all of this—its form is based on well-known Roman models, while the oversized scale and the bubbly, diffuse luminosity of its emerald color make it a perfect example of the Italian Novecento style. Today these rare Martinuzzi Pulegoso vases are considered icons of pre-war Italian art and design.

Napoleone Martinuzzi 1892–1977

Born on Murano in 1892, Napoleone Martinuzzi was the son of an accomplished glass blower. He attended the Belle Arti in Venice and was part of the Ca’ Pezzaro Secessionist group where, in 1908, he began to exhibit his sculptures. Over the next decade Martinuzzi exhibited widely in Europe, eventually becoming one of Italy’s most influential Novecento sculptors.

In 1921 he became Director of the Murano Museum and in 1925, the Artistic Director at Venini. Martinuzzi’s bold use of experimental, semi-opaque glass (Pulegoso, Lattimo, Calcedonio) brought a new sculptural materialism to Murano. His use of large-scale forms from classical antiquity executed in vibrant colors set a new standard for Murano glass design.

In 1932 Martinuzzi left Venini to found his own firm, Zecchin-Martinuzzi. While the company only lasted for a few years, its highly refined production had a profound influence on Murano glass for decades to come. Between 1937 and 1947 Martinuzzi once again dedicated himself to sculpture. During the post-war period he returned to glass design and did notable works for several companies including Alberto Seguso’s Arte Vetro, Vetreria Cenedese, Alfredo Barbini and Pauly & C.

But the simple facts of Martinuzzi’s life fail to capture the lasting power of his work—his name alone evokes images of remote elegance and archetypal glory. A lasting tribute to this haute-grandeur can still be seen at the Vittoriale—poet Gabriele D’Annunzio’s lavish home and mausoleum where many of Martinuzzi’s formidable sculptures and monumental glass vessels still reside.

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