Venetian Glass – An Introduction to its Influence

The first reference to glass making in Venice dates shortly before 1000 AD. A certain Domenico, who made glass bottles, is referred to by the then Doge of Venice in an act of donation to the church of St George on the island of St George in the bay of St Mark. It was not until the 15th century that the particular sort of glass produced in Venice known as cristallo began to attract attention all over Europe. The attraction lay in the fact that it was light and bright and could be used to create attractive shapes.

Another sort of glass was developed, calcedonio, which imitated the variegated semi-precious stone chalcedony. In 1612 Antonio Neri, a Florentine priest, published the first important book on glassmaking which included numerous recipes for glass ranging from opaque white to aventurine and opaline.

In the mid-15th century mould blowing of glass was introduced to decorate vessels and create applied motifs such as masks or lion-heads.

In the second half of the 15th century the technique of making use of coloured canes of glass was re-introduced. It had been used by Roman glassmakers but had been more or less lost after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Later Venetian glassmakers made use of opaque white canes to produce vetro a filigrana, cristallo vessels decorated with patterns of white stripes, sometimes with red or blue elements included.

Diamond point engraving and enamelled decoration were used extensively resulting in highly skilled craftsmen producing expensive vessels for the use of the richest members of society at the time.

Because of the popularity of Venetian glass, the style was initiated in many parts of Europe. Glassmakers in southern France and Spain produced façon de venise vessels using basic materials similar to those used on the island of Murano which had become the centre of Venetian glassmaking. The skill of workers on Murano was so important that they were forbidden on pain of death to move elsewhere. However, some workers did move to Spain and northern European states, particularly the Netherlands and Northern France where façon de venise glass was produced. The glass from these regions is known as wald glas or wood glass as the flux was made from charcoal produced by burning wood or bracken which produces potassium carbonate. This glass tends to be somewhat darker in colour than cristallo, the basic material of which is not common sand but finely ground quartz pebbles rigorously screened to ensure yellow and black veins were not present. The flux used for cristallo was derived from the ash of salsolo soda and salsola kali bushes that grew in the Levantine coastal region. The combination of these materials produces the clear glass of typical of Venice.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, in 1571, Giacomo Verzellini was brought to London by Jean Carré, a French glassmaker who owned the Crutched Friars Glassworks. Carré died in 1572. In 1575 Verzellini took charge of the glasshouse and was given a twenty one year monopoly to make Venetian style glass in England. As a result he laid the foundations for the English glassmaking tradition although his style was a version of the forms he learned in Murano. Unfortunately, very little of his glass has survived and most of the known pieces are in major museums.

This brief article seeks to illustrate the development of Venetian and façon de venise glass from the fifteenth to the twentieth century. Inevitably it merely scratches the surface of this huge subject but it is hoped it will give some idea through the following illustrations. Most of the pieces shown have at some point passed through the stock of Brian Watson Antique Glass. The situation of any which have not is recorded with the text accompanying the images. Some of the pieces or similar ones will be available for purchase at the Olympia Art and Antiques Fair in the first week of November 2022.

A page from the catalogue of the Slade Collection of early glass which was given to the British nation on the death of Felix Slade in 1868. Some of these glasses are on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London today. The glasses shown here are Venetian wineglasses from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Felix Slade was born in 1788 and became a lawyer. He was an important collector of glass, books and art who also founded the Slade School of Art which is part of the University of London.

A bronze mounted jug of vivid blue glass incorporating murrina made of slices of canes of glass such as those used in paperweights. This piece was made about 1500 in Venice and was part of the Slade Collection. It is now in the British Museum in London. The illustration is from page 55 of ¨Le verre de Murano¨ by Attilia Dorigato published in French by Citadelles and Mazenod in 2003.

An early 16th century table centre bowl with applied blue-­‐black stringing. Similar shaped bowls with coloured enamelling were also produced from the end of the 15th century.

A small barrel-­‐shaped beaker decorated with panels of lattimo threads and bound with applied threads of clear glass. Façon de venise, probably from the Netherlands, which would have been produced in the second half of the 16th century.

A late 16th or early 17th century century wine coupe with an incised straight stem. Façon de venise and probably from the Netherlands.

An 17th century façon de venise wineglass with a hollow inverted baluster stem and diamond moulded bowl. The foot is folded. French or Spanish.

An early 17th century small bowl with applied handles of a type associated in Spain and Southern France with marriage customs.

An example of 17th century Venetian wine glass in the form of a shallow salver. The base of the bowl is panel moulded and sits on a hollow inverted baluster stem on which two wings are applied. The foot is plain.

Another 17th century wine glass with a wide cup bowl which is moulded with slightly wrythen lines. The stem is composed of opposing hollow balusters to which are applied blue and clear glass wings with worked frills.

An 18th century small perfume bottle in the form of a pistol, the body of the bottle being formed in a style known as filigrana a tortoli which involves including twisted threads of white and coloured glass to create the design.

A late 18th century Venetian rosewater sprinkler with enamelled floral decoration probably created in the workshop of Osvaldo Brussa (1746 – 1828).

A late 19th or, perhaps, early 20th century Venetian tall wine glass with a hollow inverted baluster stem and appled wings which is a reproduction of 17th and 18th century pieces made in this style. Although it is clear cristallo the glass is thicker and the overall feeling is much heavier.

A footed vase with applied threading made at the end of the 19th century by Salviati. This important company was established by Antonio Salviati (1816 – 1890), a lawyer with an interest in mosaics and glass, originally in 1859 but re-­‐established in 1876 to produce glass at a price to make it accessible to people all over the world, thereby creating the modern Murano glass production.

A Salviati vase with a wrythen body, foot and neck section. The rim and foot are bounded with worked frills as is the actual neck. Made about 1880.

A small dish in clear glass sprinkled with aventurine, the frilled rim outlined in blue. Made by Salviati about 1880.

Two small Salviati dishes known as ¨ « cocked hat dishes ». Probably made about 1890.

Three small spirit glasses made by Salviati about 1880 – 1900.

A cocked hat vase in heavier metal than the previous examples which would suggest it was made by one of the other major Murano companies such as Barovier or Fratelli Toso in the early 20th century.

A large, approximately 20 centimetres in diameter, blue vase with applied clear pastilles and B shaped handles. Made by the Barovier company about 1934.

A very fine reproduction of a 16th century wine glass made by the Pauly company about 1960. It is similar to a glass illustrated in « Beyond Venice, glass in the Venetian style, 1500 – 1750 » published by the Corning Museum of Glass in 2004. Although the form is similar the metal of the glass is much brighter than the original.