Unique Opalino Vase

by Jim Oliveira

Napoleone Martinuzzi’s tenure at Venini (1925–31) occurred during a period of cultural, political and economic upheaval. Martinuzzi was, however, the right person for the job. As a sculptor, he lead the way in the use of opaque vitreous materials which gave Murano glass a new plasticity and solidity during this volatile age. As a man with cultural and political connections, Martinuzzi was able to secure valuable government contracts for lighting and decoration in a number of public and private architectural projects. As an artist inspired by classical Italian art, he was able to abstract the most powerful designs from vessels of antiquity and re-cast them in the emerging language of Novecento design. As onetime director of the Murano glass museum, Martinuzzi was familiar with all the ancient techniques of blown glass, from the Venetians of the High Renaissance, to little known techniques from the Roman era. It is even said that he drew inspiration for his famous Pulegoso glass from an 18th century chandelier hanging in the basement of the Murano museum.

In the vase presented here, we see a number of cultural and historical references. Composed of pale green, semi-opaque Opalino glass with green malachite-like details, this vessel belongs to a small group of experimental works first presented in 1930 at the Venice Biennale, and at the 4th Triennale of Monza later the same year. It is believed that the green, malachite-like glass was inspired by fragments of similar materials from classical antiquity. Too difficult to achieve with consistency, only a very small group of these pieces were made. It is unique specimens like these which offer rare insight into the creative edges and inner workings at Venini, the moment when designers and master blowers extended their most innovative efforts in order to create a new direction for the material and company.

Period drawing, c. 1930
Detail of base

As a unique piece, this Opalino vase has a long history of publication and exhibition. As previously mentioned, it was first exhibited at the Biennale of Venice and the Triennale of Monza in 1930. Later in the century, it was featured in Franco Deboni’s seminal work, Murano ‘900 (1996). It was also beautifully documented and displayed in 2013 at the Stanze del Vetro exhibition of Napoleone Martinuzzi’s work for Venini, curated by Marino Barovier. Presented at auction for the first time in many years, it offers a rare opportunity to experience prewar Venini glass at its most daring, rarefied and experimental.

Napoleone Martinuzzi

Born on Murano in 1892, Napoleone Martinuzzi was the son of an accomplished glass blower. He attended the Belle Arti in Venice and was part of the Ca’ Pezzaro Secessionist group where, in 1908, he began to exhibit his sculptures. Over the next decade Martinuzzi exhibited widely in Europe, eventually becoming one of Italy’s most influential Novecento sculptors.

In 1921 he became Director of the Murano Museum and in 1925, the Artistic Director at Venini. Martinuzzi’s bold use of experimental, semi-opaque glass (Pulegoso, Lattimo, Calcedonio) brought a new sculptural materialism to Murano. His use of large-scale forms from classical antiquity executed in vibrant colors set a new standard for Murano glass design.

In 1932 Martinuzzi left Venini to found his own firm, Zecchin-Martinuzzi. While the company only lasted for a few years, its highly refined production had a profound influence on Murano glass for decades to come. Between 1937 and 1947 Martinuzzi once again dedicated himself to sculpture. During the post-war period he returned to glass design and did notable works for several companies including Alberto Seguso’s Arte Vetro, Vetreria Cenedese, Alfredo Barbini and Pauly & C.

But the simple facts of Martinuzzi’s life fail to capture the lasting power of his work—his name alone evokes images of remote elegance and archetypal glory. A lasting tribute to this haute-grandeur can still be seen at the Vittoriale—poet Gabriele D’Annunzio’s lavish home and mausoleum where many of Martinuzzi’s formidable sculptures and monumental glass vessels still reside.

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Auction Results Napoleone Martinuzzi