Soffiato Glass

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.


Detail from The Annunciation by Paolo Veronese, 1578

Designed by Vittorio Zecchin in 1921, the Veronese vase has always been the symbol of Venini. This particular shape was chosen by Zecchin and Paolo Venini for a very specific reason: its pleasing dimensions and simplicity of form express a refined sensibility which the company hoped to achieve and promote. It is also no coincidence that a transparent vase of the same form can be seen quite clearly in Paolo Veronese’s painting, The Annunciation (1578). This shrewd association with Venice of the High Renaissance sends a clear message: Venini is modern design imbued with the power of classical elegance. But beyond Paolo Venini’s genius for promotion, the fact remains that the Veronese vase does possess a timeless and archetypal beauty.

Vittorio Zecchin 1878–1947

Born the son of a Murano glassblower, Vittorio Zecchin would go on to become one of the most influential Venetian artists and designers of the 20th century. Initially working as a painter in the Italian Liberty (Art Nouveau) style, Zecchin’s sensitivity to international art, combined with his love for traditional Venetian craftsmanship and design, would have a lasting influence on 20th century art-glass in Venice and beyond.

After graduating from the Venetian Academy of Fine Arts in 1901, Zecchin initially decided against a career as an artist, believing that the conservative Venetian establishment would not understand or accept his work. Instead he became civil servant in Murano and did not publicly exhibit his paintings until 1908, when a number of young Venetian artists had formed the Ca’ Pessaro group. Zecchin joined the group and by 1914 he had become one of its most influential members.

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Auction Results Vittorio Zecchin