Collaboration and Culture

Tomaso Buzzi at Venini

On occasion, we find spectacular pieces of Venini glass which are made of materials associated with one designer, but are executed in the form of another. The present lot is a prime example of this—a Napoleone Martinuzzi shape executed in Tomaso Buzzi’s exquisite Laguna glass. Pieces such as this represent an interesting aspect of Venini's production, but often make it difficult to ascribe precise authorship. 

Period drawing by Napoleone Martinuzzi; Tomaso Buzzi would repurpose this form in the 1930s for the present model executed in Laguna glass

It is important to remember that while today we think of Venini as a company composed of brilliant designers, each adding their own unique works to the Venini oeuvre, this is a somewhat revisionist convention that we impose upon the history of the firm. Thinking of Venini as a culture reverses this, and is perhaps closer to the actual truth. 

This collaborative culture produced an astonishing variety of artistic glass, glass that continues to inspire scholars, collectors and artists the world over.

The fact that Paolo Venini hired numerous designers and encouraged them to create new works is one important aspect of Venini culture. Equally important is the fact that designers were allowed to appropriate models from previous designers, either altering them slightly, or using the shape of an earlier vessel to express a new technique of their own invention. This in turn created a distinct vocabulary of interrelated forms unique to Venini. In the end this collaborative culture produced an astonishing variety of artistic glass, glass that continues to inspire scholars, collectors and artists the world over.

So how does one ascribe authorship to a vase like the one presented here? As the technique was developed by Buzzi in 1932, and therefore did not exist when the shape was designed by Martinuzzi in 1927, we can say Buzzi is the author of this piece. But in the end perhaps authenticity, rarity and beauty add more to the value of this piece than authorship alone.

Tomaso Buzzi 1900–1981

Born in Sondrio in 1900, Tomaso Buzzi became interested in art, design and craftsmanship at an early age. He studied architecture at the Politecnico di Milano, and soon after graduation began his career designing interiors, creating theatrical stage sets and costumes, and doing graphic design for books and magazines. In 1927, he was one of the original founders of the influential Il Labirinto group along with Paolo Venini, Gio Ponti, Pietro Chiesa, Carla Visconti di Modrone, Emilio Lancia, and others. The aim of Il Labirinto was to “promote modern design for the home”. In 1932 he became art director at Venini, and though his tenure only lasted until 1934, his influence had a lasting impact on the company. From 1930 to 1950 he taught architecture in Milan, and also devoted himself to artistic and functional design, working with lighting, furniture, silver, ceramics and iron. In the 1950s, Buzzi’s tastes moved away from Modernism and back towards Neo-Classicism, his first aesthetic love. By the end of the 1950s he dedicated himself almost entirely to painting, and only occasionally took on private commissions. He died in Rapallo, Genoa, in 1981.

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