From Historicism to Modernism

The Barovier family and the rediscovery and evolution
of murrine and mosaic glass

1921 is often cited as the year Modernism came to Murano. This date, of course, coincides with the opening of the Venini glassworks. And while it is true that the Venini company was modern in every sense of the word, a compelling argument can also be made that the Barovier family, one of the oldest and most traditional glass-blowing families on Murano, was actually the first to introduce a Modernist style and aesthetic to Murano glass, and at a much earlier date. 

But what defines modern? For Venini it initially meant Soffiato glass—thinly blown, transparent glass in pale gem-tone colors, elemental geometric forms inspired by models present in paintings from the high Renaissance, vessels stripped of almost all ornamentation in accordance with the aesthetics of quasi-functional simplicity. 

In order to appreciate the contribution of the Baroviers one has to understand what was happening in Venice during the 19th century. From 1814 until 1866 Venice was under occupation by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which effectively shut down glass blowing on the island of Murano. During this time, many of the techniques developed by the Venetians over the previous thousand years were nearly lost.

The story of Murano’s rebirth is both compelling and complex and features a cast of larger-than-life characters.

When Venice was finally liberated and annexed into the kingdom of Italy, glassmaking re-emerged on the island of Murano. The story of Murano’s rebirth is both compelling and complex and features a cast of larger-than-
life characters including Dottore Antonio Salviati, a lawyer from the nearby town of Vicenza. Established in 1859, Salviati’s nascent glassworks would become the chrysalis from which the entire industry would emerge. Salviati’s ability to bring together the island’s greatest blowers and designers and focus them on the rediscovery and re-production of models and techniques from antiquity, would profoundly influence the future history of glass-art worldwide.