When the great glassworks of Murano attract designers

When we talk about Murano, we are of Venice, but also and above all the island of the glassblowers of glassblowers. A tradition that dates back to the 13th century century, when in 1291 furnaces were banned in the City of the Doges to avoid any risk of to avoid any risk of the city’s wooden buildings catching fire. The the master glassmakers of Venice had to move to the small island of Murano

They quickly became recognized for the excellence of their production. The glass production of Murano reached its peak during the Renaissance before sinking into oblivion. It was not until the end of the the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century to see the name of The name of Murano to shine again, before it was exported all over the world after the after the Second World War. The great glassworks of the island owe to the great creators and designers who tried their hand at glassblowing to the glassblowing technique to produce exceptional pieces, which are today highly prized by design collectors.

Long before the 20th century and still century and still today, glassmaking in Murano is above all a family affair family history. At the beginning of the 1930s, large glass houses only began to collaborate with to collaborate with artists/creators. Because, very often, it is the the master glassmakers of the great families who conceive and elaborate the models

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Vase made by Ercole Barovier (1889-1994), for the Maison Barovier. Ercole Barovier, a descendant of a renowned family of master glassmakers, made around 25,000 objects during his career, the sketches of which are all preserved in the company, now known as Barovier & Toso
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Blown glass sculpture, Ercole Barovier, 1928. Ercole Barovier was a great creator, creating pieces of great elegance, such as this finely crafted bear. Trained as a draughtsman and chemist, Ercole Barovier experimented a lot throughout his life.

Locally, the first great creators were Vittorio Zecchin (artist, 1878-1947) and Napoleone Martinuzzi (sculptor, entrepreneur and designer, director of the Murano Glass Museum, 1892-1977). Then there is Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978), a designer and architect whose work is internationally recognised. The latter is important in the history of Murano glass as he was a long-time companion of Paolo Venini (1895-1959), who in 1921 founded one of the largest glassworks in Murano with Giacomo Cappellin, now Venini. The Venetian artist Vittorio Zecchin was thefirst artistic director of Venini, at the time the Vetri Soffiati Cappellin Venini & C.

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Veronese vase in blue glass, made by Vittorio Zecchin. The Veronese model is thefirst important piece in the history of Venini.
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Elephant, Murano glass sculpture for Venini, designed by Napoleone Martinuzzi, 1930. Very inventive, Martinuzzi launched his first funny animals in glass in 1929, which did not go unnoticed. He won the Grand Prix at the International Exhibition of Modern Art in Barcelona.
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Vase from the “Mezza Filigrana sommersa” series, design by Carlo Scarpa, Maison Venini, circa 1934. Oval transparent glass vase with red filigree decorations, subtle and elegant.
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Battuto” Bicolour vase, Carlo Scarpa design for Venini, 1940. The textured green “battuto” top and the dark red wavy layer of the base are fused using the “incalmo” technique, an ancient method dating back to the 16th-17th centuries. A magnificent colour contrast!

The Venini house, more than than other family glass dynasties such as Barovier & Toso (the oldest, since the family has been working with glass since 1295! Seguso, will multiply its collaborations with designers. In this sense, it is is the most daring and modern, understanding quite quickly the importance of an artistic direction. Napoleone Martinuzzi, who took over the artistic direction in 1925, gave this modernist impulse by launching, in addition to the original vases animals, stylized flowers and fruits, as well as a wide range of lighting fixtures

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Murano glass succulents by Napoleone Martinuzzi. One of the sculptor’s most original productions.

From the inter-war period until the end of the 1950s, Venini brought many creators and designers to La Fornace, the building where the furnaces and, by extension, the whole of the glassmaker’s activity were housed, including : Tyra Lundgren (sculptor and ceramist, 1897-1979), Ken Scott (painter, 1906-1993), Fulvio Bianconi (graphic designer, 1915-1996), Tomaso Buzzi (architect, 1900-1981) and the living legend of Italian design Gio Ponti (1881-1979).

Sculpted thrush in Murano blown glass, model 2676, design: Tyra Lundgren for Venini, 1938. Swedish-born Tyra Lundgren started out successfully in ceramics, with works shown at the Venice Biennale and the Milan Triennale. Then in the 1930s, she returned to glassmaking and was noticed by Paolo Venini. She began a collaboration with Venini in 1937.
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For Venini, Tyra Lundgren created an emblematic work: a legendary leaf-shaped bowl.
Fazzoletto vase, design: Fulvio Bianconi for Venini, 1949. This “handkerchief” vase, referring to a skirt lifted by the wind, is one of the icons of the Venini company. The piece is made using the Opaline technique to obtain an opal glass.
Hand-blown olive green Murano glass fish, design: Ken Scott for Venini, circa 1950. The American painter Ken Scott is notably known for having designed fish for Venini.
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2 bottles designed by Gio Ponti, Morandiane series (1946-1950) for Venini. 3 bottles and 1 jug created by Venini. Fluidity and elegance.
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Caption: Crinoline bottle, design by Gio Ponti for Venini, 1946-1950. A true work of art that plays on the contrast between the transparency of the glass and the saturated colours.

Venini quickly gained an international international reputation. The Venetian firm exhibited all over the world, won numerous prizes, notably at the prestigious Milan Triennale, during which it regularly presented technical innovations (wrought iron, fabrics, granular and (wrought iron, fabrics, granulars and murrines). Venini now attracts the most important and designers who want to tackle the test of fire at La Fornace of fire at La Fornace. In 1951, the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright even came in person to visit the factory, and he returned in 1957.

Among the greatest designers who came to work at Venini were the greatest Italian design figures of the time, such as Franco Albini (1905-1977), Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988), Gae Aulenti (1927-2012), Alessandro Mendini (1931-2019), Massimo Vignelli (1931-2014), Tobia Scarpa (Carlo’s son, 1935), and the great Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007). But also foreign designers such as the Finnish designer and sculptor Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985). Venini also collaborated with American figures: the Philadelphia weaver Thomas Stearns, the American designers Charles Tissot Lyn, Richard Marquis (1945), Philip Baldwin (1947), and even Scandinavian designers (Owe Thorssen and Brigitta Karlsson)


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Fungo desk lamp in Murano glass by Massimo Vignelli for Venini, 1950s. The designer was awarded the Compasso d’Oro for his series Lamps 4000, also for Venini.
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Fungo desk lamp in Murano glass by Massimo Vignelli for Venini, detail, 1950s
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Mounted vase in Venini glass and Christofle metal, designed by Massimo Vignelli. In 1963, Vignelli created the Christofle series, engraved Venini glass and Christofle silver.
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Set of 3 Nero-Lattimo Occhi tinted murano glass vases, design: Tobia Scarpa for Venini, circa 1960
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Tapio Wirkkala, Bubbles, vases for Venini, 1966.
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Uppsala bottles, design Owe Thorssen & Brigitta Karlsson for Venini, circa 1980.
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Berito series vase, in Lattimo glass for Venini, design Alessandro Mendini, 1988. Lattimo is an opaque white glass, invented in Murano in the mid 15th century.
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On the left is Ettore Sottsass’ Yemen vase in Murano blown glass for Venini, 1994. Sottsass’s “totems” style is recognisable. On the right, the Oman vase, also created by Sottsass, in hand-blown glass using the OPALINI technique.

Even if Venini has seen the best of Italian of Italian design blown into its glasses, one cannot sum up art glass with the name to the name of Venini in Murano alone. Honour to the oldest glassworks: Barovier & Toso, 9 centuries of existence, descendant of the families of the master glassmakers Barovier and Toso who joined forces in the same company in 1936. Many models are designed and made by Ercole Barovier (1889-1994), the great 20th century figure of the brand.

Another important family in The Seguso family, whose glassmaking activity dates back to 1397 and still exists today. Antonio Seguso (1884-1965) and his sons, including Archimede Seguso (1909-1999), worked throughout their lives to bring back to light the excellence of the excellence of Murano’s glassmaking. In 1932, Antonio Seguso (1884-1965) and his sons, together with Napoleone Barovier (1881-1957) and Luigi Olimpio Ferro, founded the Seguso Vetri d’Arte. Technically very skilled like his father Antonio archimedes Seguso, like his father Antonio, made Seguso Vetri d’Arte famous. The designer Flavio Poli (1900-1984) was for a time the artistic director of the the company for a time and brought creativity and originality to the brand.

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Archimede Seguso, Murano blown glass sculpture, 1970. A magnificent piece that demonstrates Archimede Seguso’s talent in the use of an extremely intense chromatic range.
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Archimede Seguso, prototype vase made for Missoni, circa 1980.
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In 1954, Seguso Vetri d’Arte won the Compasso d’Oro for the “Blu Rubino” vase designed by Flavio Poli. The jury rewarded the technicality of the model composed of several superimposed layers of glass (sommerso, or immersed glass).

Finally, among the great Murano glassworks of the twentieth century that have disappeared or are still or still existing, we should mention the Salviati, A.V.E.M. (Arte Vetraria Muranese), Romano Mazzega, La Murrina, Livio Seguso, Lino Tagliapietra, and Rag. Aureliano Toso. Among the designers who have worked for these these houses include Dino Mertens (1894-1970), who was the artistic director of sergio Asti (1926) at Salviati, Luciano Gaspari (1913-2007) (1913-2007), Salviati’s historic artistic director..

Today, Murano is still frequented by the gotha of the arts, design and and architecture, seduced by a universe like no other for those who know how to who knows how to tame fire, material and colour

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The Marco vase in the Salviati catalogue was designed in 1962 by Sergio Asti for Salviati. An iconic, technically sophisticated piece that won the Compasso d’Oro prize in 1962.

François Boutard