Carlo Scarpa

At MVM Cappellin

Young Carlo Scarpa’s brilliant tenure as art director at MVM Cappellin (1925-1931) has now been thoroughly documented, in large part due to the inspired and comprehensive exhibition at the Stanze Del Vetro in 2018. One of the surprises in the show were the sculptures—playfully rendered fish, octopi, elephants and owls which verge on the surreal. While animal forms were typical themes for Murano glass firms during the 1930s, they are not necessarily what one associates with Carlo Scarpa. During his years at Cappellin, Scarpa became famous for his reduced modernist vessels composed of rarefied opaque and transparent glass. These objects are so beautiful and transcendental that an air of seriousness, even reverence, surrounds them. Until the exhibition at the Stanze Del Vetro brought together examples of Scarpa’s animal sculptures for Cappellin, his playful, winsome and grotesque moods were not generally appreciated.

The two fish, owl and elephant in this catalog were present in the Stanze Del Vetro exhibition and represent some of the best and rarest examples in existence. If we examine these carefully and compare them to, say, the animals designed by Ercole Barovier during the same period, we see something unique—a particular combination of the whimsical and grotesque, something akin to vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th century, animals rendered in materials which appear to be almost literally visceral. While Barovier’s birds, elephants and bears possess an air of comedy and charm (and his tiger is truly ferocious), Scarpa’s animals almost dare us to look away.