Born in 1936 in San Vito al Taglimento, Toni Zuccheri was the son of renowned Italian metaphysical painter Luigi Zuccheri whose work was focused predominantly on the depiction of fantastic animals and birds. From an early age Toni demonstrated an innate capacity for drawing and possessed a great sensitivity toward nature, animals and birds in particular.
A few years after moving to Venice with his family in 1945, he enrolled in the Academy of Architecture and studied under Franco Albini, Ignazio Gardella, Carlo Scarpa and others. In the early 1960s he began to study and work at Venini where, in collaboration with Gio Ponti, he engaged in intensive experimentation with glass, culminating in the development of Vetro Grosso, a new type of glass created from dense vitreous pastes combined with murrine, raw pigment, shards of Filigrana canes and fine wire mesh.
“A change took place in him, a process of synthesis…almost as if he had succeeded in transcending glass, or at least freeing himself from the powerful and wonderful limitations of its transparency.”
The first objects produced by Zuccheri at Venini were, unsurprisingly, sculptures of fantastic birds—owls, turkeys, guineafowl, hoopoes and others, all rendered in sophisticated polychrome murrine and experimental glass pastes. Mounted on realistic bronze legs, the first group of these was presented at the Venice Biennale of 1964 and met with great success. Both expensive and difficult to make, these birds, like much of Zuccheri’s work for Venini, were presented as virtuoso sculpture and were proudly displayed by Venini in their shop windows and presented at important Italian and international exhibitions.
Over the next four decades Zuccheri would continue to create sculptures of birds, both for Venini in glass and, later in life, as one-off sculptures made from of a wide variety of materials. As his son Taddeo put it in an interview in 2009, “It was in the 90s, that in a way he turned from being a designer to being an artist. A change took place in him, a process of synthesis… almost as if he had succeeded in transcending glass, or at least freeing himself from the powerful and wonderful limitations of its transparency.”
Today, taken either as fine art or as high design, Zuccheri’s birds for Venini occupy a unique place in the history of Murano glass; grotesque and beautiful, realistic and highly imaginative, experimental and vastly accomplished, the sculptural birds of Toni Zuccheri for Venini are works of artistic genius.
The Hoopoe presented here was given as a gift to the present owner in 1989. The work was delivered by Toni Zuccheri’s son Taddeo with an accompanying note which attests to the fact that this was the first Hoopoe executed at Venini.
I will have Taddeo bring you my hoopoe I made for Venini in the early Sixties.
They wanted to make a new “bestiario”, and through my friend Tobia, they did ask my father to design one for them. He said, with a smart intuition, that I was better than him. And indeed with the hoopoe, the turkey, the guinea fowl, and the duck my adventure in Murano started.
I’m very fond of this particular one, and in fact I took it immediately home with me, and it is in a certain sense my first creature made with my own hands, and with a technique I called “mosaico in rilievo” on a thin bronze core, in the manner of the ancients.
Treat her well, and pat her from time to time, otherwise she will escape and come back to me.