And Vittorio Zecchin
Scholars and collectors of 20th century Murano glass often point to the year 1921 and the formation of the Venini company as the beginning of modernism in Murano glass, a rebirth which would leave the messy aesthetic excesses of the 19th century behind and usher Venetian glass into the realm of the new. The young Venini company needed a special kind of artist to act as director and create a new style of glass which would reflect the spirit of the age. Founders Paolo Venini (a charismatic young lawyer from Milan) and Giacomo Cappellin (an experienced Venetian antiques dealer) chose visionary artist Vittorio Zecchin for the task.
Soffiato glass, thinly blown, transparent, gem-toned monochromatic glass, is so reduced that it expresses a direct relationship to drawing.
The body of work that Vittorio Zecchin created for Venini (and later MVM Cappellin) is subtle, nuanced and thoughtfully drawn; Soffiato glass, thinly blown, transparent, gem-toned monochromatic glass, is so reduced that it expresses a direct relationship to drawing. In fact, Venetian glass has always been informed by art—painting, drawing, sculpture and even graphic design. As a painter and textile designer Zecchin intuitively understood color, composition, perspective, movement, proportion, and harmony and disharmony of form. But the lines in his Soffiato glass belong to drawing and to essence. Zecchin was hired by Giacomo Cappellin and Paolo Venini to create exactly this—a series of glass vessels stripped of all adornment. Vessels inspired by those found in the paintings of Titian, Caravaggio and Veronese. Elegant forms which reference classical antiquity, but objects also dramatically modern in their reduced, streamlined simplicity.
In the end, Vittorio Zecchin’s designs in Soffiato would come to define Venetian glass of the 1920s.
This was a surprisingly difficult task to achieve, one which required a subtle mind, clarity of vision, and the raw ability to draw a vessel with archetypical power in a few simple lines. The word Soffiato might also be translated as breath, which is particularly apt as it applies to Vittorio Zecchin’s work for Venini and Cappellin. The essence of glassblowing is the use of ones own breath to inflate the semi-fluid mass of the glowing liquid metal. The pieces that Zecchin drew for Venini seem as light as breath, even when executed at large scale. The idea of manipulating scale (from tiny to huge), of working in series (subtle variations and permutations in shape and form), and the addition of simple details (pairs of handles, lip wraps and delicately drawn feet), all add to the self-evident power of the technique. A few designs, like the Veronese vase, were taken directly from renaissance paintings. And while critics of the day considered these appropriations as nearly theft, they also recognized the elemental power of these objects and were ultimately seduced. Presented side by side with shapes like the Libellula (dragonfly), which demonstrate a high level of abstraction inspired by the natural world, Zecchin’s Soffiato glass objects appear equally ancient and modern and create a dynamic visual balance worthy of the title “new”. In the end, Vittorio Zecchin’s designs in Soffiato would come to define Venetian glass of the 1920s.