Masterworks  21 November 2017
A Dame bowl and vases illustrated in a period photograph from 1953

Inspired by Carlo Scarpa’s use of murrine glass in the 1930s and 1940s, Paolo Venini designed a number of vessels in the 1950s that have become icons of post-war design. Using sober, minimal forms Venini experimented with numerous combinations of tightly packed micro-murrines and used them to achieve an overall visual effect not unlike finely woven fabrics or the intricate patterns found on birds, insects and sea life.

This model illustrated in an early Venini catalog which would later be used as the basis for the present lot

The first of these series, a Dame (checkered, or chessboard) was designed in 1953. The inspiration for this particular pattern may come from a group of samples made in the 1880s by Vincenzo Moretti, which were on display at the Venice Biennale of 1934. This particular vase is composed of lattimo (milk white) and turquoise murrines in the a Dame pattern and the shape corresponds to model 3910, which was first designed by Carlo Scarpa in the 1930s.

Due to the high cost and difficulty of their production, a Dame pieces were made in very limited numbers, and authentic examples are extremely rare today.

Paolo Venini 1895–1959

Paolo Venini was born in Cusano, Italy on January 12, 1895 to a middle class Lombard family. As a young man he studied law in Milan. During the first war he was stationed near Venice where he became fascinated with the glass mosaics and stained glass of St. Mark’s cathedral. After the war he began a law practice but soon came under the influence of Venetian art and antiquities dealer Giacomo Cappellin who convinced the young Venini to join him as a business partner in a new Murano glass enterprise in 1921. Since then it has become almost impossible to discuss the life of Paolo Venini as separate from his company—all the available biographical material about him lacks personal detail and inevitably lists towards the celebrated history of the company. Venini’s biography is, therefore, the story of a man whose literal personality has been subsumed by his professional life and persona. In 1940 the Swedish artist Tyra Lundgren described him as, “An ideally balanced personality: an able industrialist, an energetic merchant and an avant-garde artist with infallible taste, an expert technician, a lover of the medium, highly sensitive to the noble purity of forms”. Indeed, Paolo Venini seems to have been a person who was able to coax the best from his artists, designers and master craftsmen, a man who was a tireless promoter of his company and its aesthetic, a visionary who was able to combine the cultural sophistication of Milan with the ancient craftsmanship of Murano. By the time of his death in 1959, the Venini name had become synonymous with superb taste and elegant modern style. Perhaps no other biographical information is necessary.

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