Carlos Scarpa is one of the most innovative architects of the 20th century. His genius is in his ability to combine time-honored techniques and forms with his modern sensibility to create sophisticated architecture and furniture as well as masterworks in glass. Scarpa’s glass work routinely features prominently in our Important Italian Glass auctions and since our founding, Scarpa has brought in nearly $2 million in sales.
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The Sophisticated Glass of Carlo Scarpa
Carlo Scarpa’s designs are a tour-de-force of experimental art glass. Seamlessly integrating essential forms from classical antiquity and ancient Chinese art with traditional Murano craftsmanship and modernist art conventions, Scarpa created a diverse body of work with lasting influence. For more than 20 years, starting first at MVM Cappellin before enjoying a long tenure with Venini, Scarpa expanded the boundaries of Venetian glassblowing; he pioneered several techniques including the distinctive Bollicine, which refers to tiny bubbles trapped in the glass creating a delicate opacity of light and color and mezza filigrana which is a thin glass decorated with internal swirling lines and applied bold colors, both transparent and opaque, to traditional forms; he explored texture and surface with his Battuto series, dappled forms expertly carved to mimic the surface of beaten metal, becoming one of the hallmarks of Scarpa's designs. All in all, Scarpa’s influence modernized the vernacular of Murano glass.
Carlo Scarpa: Architecture and Japan
Throughout his life, Carlo Scarpa would draw on his deep love of Japanese culture and tradition to design architecture. His work reflects the influence of the understated minimalism of Japan, known as shibui, which is the concept of an elegant, yet restrained aesthetic marked by high-quality workmanship and materials. Scarpa was known for paying as much attention to the minute elements of his buildings as he did to the overall design, and he was known to use meticulously hand-crafted screws and hinges in his architecture. Mixing the local design of his native Venice with the organic materials and graceful lines of Japanese buildings, Scarpa’s work reflects a harmony between the two cultures. Scarpa died in Japan in 1978 after a fatal fall down a set of stairs. However, Scarpa’s love of Japan lives on in his architectural masterpieces like the Brion Cemetery and his renovation of the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona, Italy.
...above all, he was exceptionally skillful in knowing how to combine a base material with a precious one.
Egle Trincanato, President of the Fondazione Querini Stamplalia, for whom Scarpa renovated a Venetian palace
Carlo Scarpa 1906–1978
Carlo Scarpa was born in Venice in 1906, and died an accidental death in Japan in 1978. Like many great artists, Scarpa’s work as architect and designer is highly influential and yet remains enigmatic, illusive and hard to categorize. What is obvious in all his work is an underlying transcendental quality, an uncanny ability to create powerful emotional states in all who experience it. It is perhaps this quality that makes him one of the most beloved and revered figures in the history of 20th century Italian art and design.
Scarpa’s various biographers often point to his sensitivity to materials and his ability to evoke the past, but nothing about Scarpa is easy to define. In 1919 he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Venice and graduated in 1926 with the title of Professor of Architecture. He did not, however, sit the pro forma exam required by the Italian government, and hence was never fully licensed as an architect.
A master of blending ancient and modern materials, forms and sensibilities, Scarpa completed over sixty architectural projects for museums in his lifetime. His agile use of precious, humble and industrial materials in order to elegantly frame historical fragments and artifacts is perhaps his greatest architectural achievement. His devotion to restoration and preservation also seem to suggest a belief that the true vocation of any architect is to quietly re-frame history, to convey a sense of both past and present, uniting them in full knowledge that the future is unwritten.
Scarpa’s work as a glass designer is equally poetic and ambitious. Working for both MVM Cappellin and Venini he produced hundreds of models, all of which are now considered masterworks. Drawing inspiration from ancient Chinese and Japanese vessels, Scarpa was able to express the best aspects of Murano glass craftsmanship in reduced modernist forms. Even the titles of his series hint at the elemental power of his work: Bollicine, Transparente, Granulare, Iridato, Inciso, Batutto, Vellato, Fasce, Pennellate (Bubbly, Transparent, Grainy, Iridized, Incised, Beaten, Veiled, Banded, Brushstrokes).
Carlo Scarpa’s death itself was poetic. He died from injuries after falling down a flight of concrete steps that he himself had designed in Sendai, Japan. However his death was not immediate—he lived for ten days. While unable to speak, it is said that he could write, but only backwards, and that he spent his last days creating tiny illustrated books for his friends. In the end he was buried in the standing position, wrapped in white muslin, in a quiet corner of the Brion-Vega Cemetery in San Vito d’Altivole, widely considered to be his ultimate architectural masterpiece.
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If the architecture is good, whoever listens to it and looks at it feels its benefits without realizing it. The environment educates in a critical way.