Liquid Light: 500 Years of Venetian Glass: NGV International

Liquid Light 1
Liquid Light 1

Venini & Co., Murano manufacturer Italy est. 1921, Fulvio Bianconi designer, Italy 1915–96, Handkerchief (Fazzoletto) vase 1949 designed, c. 1950–60 manufactured, glass (vetro a fili decoration), 19.8 x 34.0 x 21.7 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Purchased from Admission Funds, 1989 (D29-1989)

Liquid Light: 500 Years of Venetian Glass is an entry free exhibition to be held at NGV International. On display March 8 – August 4, 2019, it will showcase the development of glass specifically at Venice.

For centuries now glassmaking has been practiced on the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon, with the industry itself surviving the many and varied vicissitudes of Venice’s long political and social history.

Liquid Light 4

Vetreria Fratelli Toso, Murano, Venice (attributed to) manufacturer, Italy 1854–1901 Vase c. 1890–1900, glass (murrine decoration), 25.5 x 19.7 x 15.1 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Purchased, 1996 (1996.200)

Where would we be without glass in our lives?

Of all the ‘created things’ in the world perhaps nothing is quite as magical or indeed more enchanting than glass.

The mystique surrounding it only adds to its romance and from industry to technology, the many properties and uses of glass, through research are constantly being extended. The display draws upon the NGV’s extensive holdings of Venetian glass, dating sixteenth – twentieth century.

Interestingly, the first known glassmaking “manual’ in the world discovered to date is from seven centuries before the Christ event.

Ashurbanipal FeastingInstructions on how to make glass contained on clay tablets housed in the first systematically organized library assembled at Nineveh in the ancient Middle East by the Assyrian King known for his bravery and intelligence, Ashurbanipal (669-626).

Two important technical advances in technique were necessary if glass was to have a future. This happened at Rome with the use moulds during the late first century B.C. and glass blowing from the early first century A.D., providing a solution to many problems.

Waterford-Glass-blowerShaping a mass of molten glass by attaching it to a blow pipe and inflating it was far faster than casting it using a mould. Glass blowers quickly discovered the biggest limitation on the size of any object was now the strength of their arms.

Gladiator cup, ca. 50–80 A.D.; Neronian–Early Flavianic Roman; Found at Montagnole, southern France - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Gladiator cup, ca. 50–80 A.D.; Neronian–Early Flavianic Roman; Found at Montagnole, southern France – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

During the period of Rome’s greatness from 753 BC – AD 476 many of the traditions associated with our modern western civilization were established.

The Romans became particularly adept at making glass and took glass as an art form, to high levels of sophistication.

Roman Glass Multi coloured

Glass garland bowl, Early Imperial, Augustan, late 1st century BC, Roman, Glass, cast and cut, Edward C. Moore Collection, bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891, courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

True talent happens when the artisan steps away from the norm and is willing to experiment, as revealed in this glass garland bowl from the 1st century BC.

When colourless glass was invented (through the introduction of manganese oxide) in Alexandria, hundreds of fortunes were made as the Romans began to see its application for architectural purposes as well, which aided commerce up until today, as it does now with works by American glass artist Dale Chihuly, which fetch a premium.

Dale Chihuly: United States 1941 Untitled group from the Macchia series 1982 glass (a-e) 25.3 x 69.3 x 39.4 cm (installed) (variable) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Australian Consolidated Industries Limited, Governor, 1983 (D22.a-e-1983) © Dale Chihuly

Dale Chihuly: United States 1941 Untitled group from the Macchia series 1982 glass (a-e) 25.3 x 69.3 x 39.4 cm (installed) (variable) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Australian Consolidated Industries Limited, Governor, 1983 (D22.a-e-1983) © Dale Chihuly

Everything changed when as sole governor, Roman Emperor Constantine chose Byzantium for his capital in the east in 330 A.D., inaugurating it under the name of Constantinople, City of Constantine.

Statues of Castor and Pollux at Rome

Statues of Castor and Pollux at Rome

It proved to be a wise move for the city of Rome was severely shaken in 410, when it was sacked by the Visigoths, a wandering nation of Germanic peoples from the northeast. The fall of Rome was completed in 476, when German chieftain Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus.

Islands VeniceTradition has it glass workers were among the refugees fleeing northern Goths, Huns and Lombard invaders who went on to help found the city of Venice, which originally consisted of 118 flat islets packed close together. It was on the barren marshy islands of their lagoons early settlers at first cornered the salt trade.

Venetian-Cristallo-Glass-C17

Venetian: Cristallo Glass, seventeenth century

The art of glass making once established, was practiced on the island of Murano nearby to Venice from 982, when the first Venetian glass maker appears in documentary records. He was a Benedictine monk, Domenico, described as a fiolario; a maker of phials. We can only hypothesize the technique used to make the phials was blowing glass, as we have no written proof

Techniques for glass manufacture were refined at Venice, more than anywhere else in Europe. They traded with the Orient and countries who already had an ancient tradition in glass blowing, such as the Syrians and Egyptians.

The conquest of Constantinople in 1204 by a wayward Fourth Crusade became a watershed event, which opened up to Venice the practices of glass producers carried forward from the original Roman workers.

Venetians were the first to make transparent glass since the days of the Roman Empire. They developed their so-called cristallo glass, which was named for its resemblance to natural crystal.

D80-1987

Italy, Venice / Spain manufacturer, glass Jug mid 16th century glass (vetro a retorti decoration) 16.6 x 14.2 x 9.4 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Mrs Margaret Stewart, Founder Benefactor, 1987 (D80-1987)

It became famous. Made with soda, it was very ductile and cooled quickly, demanding of the workmen great speed and dexterity, affecting the nature of the glasses made, which were also suitable for engraving.

The workmen of Murano would blow the glass to a bubble thinness and work it into an even greater bewilderment of shapes with beauty of form, inventiveness and creative spontaneity.

The glass artisans of Venice accumulated their singular skills in glass production, so that by the middle of the thirteenth century there were enough craftsmen in Venice to form a guild. By 1291 glassmakers of the Venetian lagoon had distilled their knowledge into unique proprietary production skills.

In the same year the government of Venice banned glass furnaces from the central islands of Venice, relegating them to the island of Murano where the workers more or less became prisoners.

Italy, Venice manufacturer, Tazza 17th century glass (diamond-point engraved) 9.6 x 32.8 cm diameter National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1871 (86-D1R)

Italy, Venice manufacturer, Tazza 17th century glass (diamond-point engraved) 9.6 x 32.8 cm diameter National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1871 (86-D1R)

As the fame of the glassblowers of Murano spread, so did the desire by other countries in Europe to discover their secrets. Rigid regulations and harsh penalties were enacted by the ruling Doge of Venice in order to punish those who transgressed the laws, forbidding them to leave the island.

However, it would have the opposite effect. Any trade domination built on a monopoly, especially a monopoly in know-how–is inherently unstable. All trade needs competition to stay relevant.

Oil and vinegar cruet c. 1680, glass (applied decoration) 23.0 x 11.3 x 9.5 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne William and Margaret Morgan Endowment, 1973 (D180-1973)

Oil and vinegar cruet c. 1680, glass (applied decoration) 23.0 x 11.3 x 9.5 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, William and Margaret Morgan Endowment, 1973 (D180-1973)

When Constantinople was conquered by Islam in 1453, glass workers from the East brought additional cultural influences, styles, techniques and traditions fused in the celebrated furnaces of Islam to give glass a unique quality, making their historic glass important and sought after. Glass made in Venice, although luxurious, was also utilitarian. Mirrors, for example, were major revenue producers, beautiful intricate decorative objects exhibiting complex techniques developed by Murano artisans.

By the 1600s rival centres were found in France and Moravia and shifting trade routes began to undermine Venice’s strategic trading advantages.

1600 marks the gradual, long-term decline of its glass industry at Murano.

Pair Engraved Glasses, diamond point stipple engraving attributed to Dutch engraver David Wolff 1732 - 1798, clear colourless lead glass

Pair Engraved Glasses, diamond point stipple engraving attributed to Dutch engraver David Wolff 1732 – 1798, clear colourless lead glass

At a highpoint of its popularity during the seventeenth century the invention of a new style of glass cristallo inspired English and European glasshouses, to emulate their feats and to reach great heights of sophistication in the world of glass manufacture.

Their ‘glasses of lead’ contributed to the invention of the crystal industry, which is still flourishing in Ireland at Waterford today.

Italy, Venice manufacturer Bowl c. 1736 glass (latticinio) 6.1 x 12.0 cm diameter National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1871 (32-D1R)

Italy, Venice manufacturer Bowl c. 1736 glass (latticinio) 6.1 x 12.0 cm diameter National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1871 (32-D1R)

The NGV’s collections are especially rich in material from the nineteenth-century revival of the glass industry on the Venetian island of Murano.

Venice And Murano Glass And Mosaic Company, Venice manufacturer Italy est. 1859 Goblet c. 1880 glass 23.2 x 14.1 x 7.6 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Gift of John H. Connell, 1914 (1273-D3)

Venice And Murano Glass And Mosaic Company, Venice manufacturer Italy est. 1859 Goblet c. 1880 glass 23.2 x 14.1 x 7.6 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Gift of John H. Connell, 1914 (1273-D3)

The nineteenth century was generally the age of historicism in glass, designed in the classical, rococo, renaissance and gothic revival and in various oriental styles.

Direct reproductions were also popular and the Venetian glass industry was revived as a result of this interest. As a consequence of the Industrial Revolution much of the production was mechanized and there was a strong interest in new technologies.

In 1871, a large collection of Venetian glass was acquired directly by the NGV from Venice by the proconsul to the Kingdom of Italy.

Again in 1874, a further group of works was acquired, selected by Antonio Salviati.

He was the father of the Venetian glass revival and at the time additional nineteenth-century Venetian glass entered the NGV collections from Italian displays at the Melbourne International Exhibition 1880–81.

Ettore Sottsass designer Austria/Italy 1917–2007 Memphis, Milan retailer Italy 1981–1988 Toso Vetri D’Arte, Murano manufacturer Italy est. 1981 Mitzar, vase 1982 glass (applied decoration) 35.6 x 27.9 cm diameter National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Women's Association, 1985 (D78-1985) Italy, Venice Flask 16th century glass 25.5 x 13.1 x 10.4 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Presented by the National Gallery Women's Association, 1973 (D204-1973)

Ettore Sottsass designer Austria/Italy 1917–2007, Memphis, Milan retailer, Italy 1981–1988 Toso Vetri D’Arte, Murano manufacturer, Italy est. 1981 Mitzar, vase 1982 glass (applied decoration) 35.6 x 27.9 cm diameter, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Women’s Association, 1985 (D78-1985) Italy, Venice, Flask 16th century, glass, 25.5 x 13.1 x 10.4 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Presented by the National Gallery Women’s Association, 1973 (D204-1973)

Venetian glass artists also become key participants of an international Studio Glass movement, by inspiring and helping the influential American 1980s Memphis Group realize their postmodern ideals. But that’s a whole other story for another day.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2019

27-D1RLiquid Light: 500 Years of Venetian Glass

March 8 – August 4, 2019

FREE ENTRY

NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne

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