Designed in collaboration with Paolo Venini in 1936, the Murrine Romana vessels illustrate an ambitious attempt by Carlo Scarpa to recreate the ancient Roman technique of murrine, but cast in a new light. This experimental series would not only presage Scarpa’s later work with murrines at Venini, but also mark his first design collaboration with the company’s prescient founder.
Scarpa became full time art director at Venini in 1934 and his deep interest in historic, ancient and archaic glass was immediately apparent. His first series, Bollicine, were bubbly, thick walled, semi-opaque vessels rendered in jewel-tone colors. In this case, inspiration came from ancient cast and carved glass vases with degraded surfaces excavated at Mesopotamian archaeological sites.
Murrine Romana are more than just well executed novelties—they are a symbol of the inspired co-mingling of experimental art and commerce.
His second series, Mezza Filligrana, was based on a 16th century Venetian technique. These were thin walled vessels with reduced classical forms, but Scarpa, working with Venini’s master blowers, devised new technical methods in order to produce large-scale, out-sized objects. In both instances we see Scarpa’s ability to blend ancient and modern aesthetic concepts, as well as Paolo Venini’s willingness to let his young designer follow his own artistic inclinations. Incidentally, both series were well received and commercially successful.
The Murrine Romana series was another story. These vessels were truly experimental as Venini’s craftsmen were attempting a new variation of the old Roman technique of slumping. Built rather than blown, these pieces were intended to look archaic, with thick, blocky murrine walls, and cobbled, tactile exteriors. Since these vessels were so difficult to achieve, it is amazing that the few surviving examples are so well constructed and aesthetically pleasing.
It is also interesting to note that not only did Paolo Venini support the effort to make these pieces, he was personally involved in their design and execution. Years later, in the 1940s and 1950s, both Scarpa and Venini would go on to design murrine series based on these early attempts. However, the Murrine Romana are more than just well executed novelties—they are a symbol of the inspired co-mingling of experimental art and commerce.