APRIL 2001


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by Sheldon Barr

The Gardner & Barr Venetian Glass Gallery 
opened in 1992. Initially we sold Venetian 
glass from the 1920s -- wine goblets and 
generic decorative objects. However, along 
with the gallery's stock and trade items
we began to acquire intriguing pieces of 
Venetian glass from both the nineteenth 
century and the mid-twentieth century.

Venetian glass from the 1930s to the present 
day is well documented. Browsing through the 
many informative books on the subject, we 
were able to identify the pieces we found and 
sell them with an assured provenance and 
correct value. 
However, the earlier, nineteenth-century items were impossible 
to research -- there were no texts to consult. We began to search out any 
scrap of information we could find. What we learned very quickly was that 
late-nineteenthcentury Venetian glass was totally unappreciated in this country. 
It was widely believed that the periods production consisted of nothing 
more than dreary replicasof antique work. It was casually dismissed 
as reproduction or tourist glass. But we found these exotic and 
beautifully-crafted objects intriguing and mysterious. 
Further investigation was mandated.

We soon discovered that the Salviati firm, one of the nineteenth centurys great 
Venetian glass emporiums, had won twelve gold medals at the international trade 
fairs that proliferated at the end of the nineteenth century. We learned that this 
glass, unrecognized and undervalued today, was not only acclaimed and highly 
valued at the time, but avidly collected by major European, British and American 
museums. So we traveled to the island of Murano and interviewed Attilia
 Dorigato, the curator of the Murano Glass Museum and then to London to 
view the glass collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum where Reino 
Liefkes, curator of glass, made the museums extensive archives available 
to us. Finally, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, curator Jesse 
McNab allowed us virtually unlimited access to the Jarves Gift, arguably the 
foremost museum collection of nineteenth-century Venetian 
glass in America. The story began to unfold -- and it was a 
fascinating one.
Somehow we had innocently stumbled onto something incredible -- an undiscovered 
facet of nineteenth century applied art. Lets face it -- since the 1950s the nineteenth 
century’s applied arts have been relentlessly explored and dissected. Volumes have 
been written on French art-nouveau glass, Loetz glass, Tiffany glass, etc., etc. Yet, 
until we began to delve into the Venetian production of the period, no one had paid it 
any attention at all (other than a brief mention in general books on Venetian glass). 
No one noticed its quality, diversity and significance. Venice produced its own quirky 
version of the art-nouveau style in the 1880s and early evidence of the art-deco style 
appeared in the work of the Artisti Barovier in 1895.
Our quest for knowledge had yielded astonishing results. My desire to share 
this knowledge led me to write the book: Venetian glass, Confections in Glass, 
1855-1914, (Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, 1998). Now in its second printing, 
the book has become the established reference on nineteenth-century 
Venetian glass. And (I suspected it might happen) the publication of my 
book has engendered a new and very healthy collecting category: 
Nineteenth-century Venetian glass.

A brief history of Venetian glassmaking

With its origins in Byzantium and Syria, glassmaking was one of the Venetian 
Republics most profitable industries and by far its most-celebrated. At the end 
of the fifteenth century, with approximately three thousand glass blowers on Murano 
island, the glass industry had reached its commercial height. The sixteenth century, 
however, is regarded as its artistic pinnacle. Perfectly proportioned, unembellished 
vessels defined the production of the period, effectively eclipsing Venices traditional 
Eastern-inspired enameled and gilded glassware. Venices seventeenth-century 
glass is often thought of as baroque. It is more playful and less functional than the 
unadorned glass of the sixteenth century. By the eighteenth century 
Venices major industries -- shipbuilding, the spice trade, and lace, silk and 
wool production had declined. However, luxury glass, mirrors and beads 
remained valuable trading commodities and their manufacture continued as
Venices fortunes continued to fade. Eighteenth-century glass production 
reached an unsurpassed level of sophistication and refinement. In 1708-09, 
King Frederick IV of Denmark acquired a superlative collection. It can be seen today, 
in all its baroque splendor, in the Rosenborg Palace in Copenhagen.

In May of 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte, on the final leg of his brilliant Italian 
campaign, needed gold to pay his troops. He (and the rest of world as well) 
believed Venice to be unimaginably rich, so, vowing to be Venices Attila, 
Napoleon anchored the French fleet off the Lido and provoked the terrified 
citizens. By then the eleven hundred year old Venetian Republic was not 
only weak and vulnerable, but (unfortunately for Napoleon) no longer wealthy 
after a century of wasteful extravagance. Venice surrendered 
without a fight. Napoleon demanded all the gold and silver ceremonial 
objects from the churches -- even the treasury of the Basilica of 
San Marco was not spared. On his orders a portion was melted down. 
The sale of the resulting twelve hundred pounds of gold and silver 
realized 29,223 ducats -- enough to pay the soldiers.

Deprived of its sovereignty and with its remaining Empire divided up, Venice 
was at first dominated by the French Republic, then Austria, then the French 
Empire and finally by Austria, which gained control of Venice for the second 
time after Napoleons defeat at Waterloo and the subsequent fall of the French 
Empire in 1815. The successive foreign occupations lasted nearly seventy years.

One of the more obvious results of the political and economic turmoil which 
followed the demise of the Republic was the near destruction of the glass 
industry. However, in the mid-1850s, after nearly sixty years of destructive 
foreign domination, the destitute Venetians had to jump start their economy. 
To that end they set about the resurrection of several dying handicrafts 
which had been a source of great  wealth and pride to them in the past, 
including: mosaic work, lace making, and, of course, glassmaking.

It is to Antonio Salviati, a lawyer from Vicenza, Vincenzo Zanetti, a Glass 
scholar (and priest) and Antonio Colleoni, the mayor of Murano, that we owe the 
salvation and resurrection of the Venetian glass industry. When viewed objectively, it 
becomes clear that the production of the period was not at all stagnant. Soon after 
recovering the endangered techniques, the glassmakers went on to invent new ones
 in a systematic, research-based fashion. As evidenced by surviving contemporary 
catalogs, new forms and techniques were introduced at regular intervals.

In 1862 Salviati took part in the extremely important and influential 
International Exhibition in London. Venice remained under Austrian 
control but Salviati, flaunting the popular Venetian political attitude of 
the time, exhibited under the Italian flag. Chalcedony vessels 
(glass imitating stone) dominated the firm’s blown glass presentation. 
Very little glass in other colors was shown. For £14 London’s South Kensington 
Museum bought a superb creation: a gilt-metal-mounted chalcedony vase. 
Anxious to increase awareness of his work in Britain, Salviati donated two 
additional examples of chalcedony glass to the museum.

It is likely that Salviati first met Sir Austen Henry Layard at the London 
exhibition. Layard was the renowned archeologist who had discovered and 
excavated the ruins of Nineveh in Assyria. He was also an unabashed lover of 
Venice and things Venetian -- and he was rich. Their meeting proved 
crucial for Salviati and the revival of the Venetian blown glass industry. 
In 1866, after nearly seventy years of foreign domination, Venice 
became part of the Kingdom of Italy and the opportunity for bold 
economic expansion arrived. Zanetti, Colleoni and Salviati fervently 
believed that the revival of the blown glass industry on Murano would be a 
great financial success. However, extensive investment was necessary 
and the three Venetians lacked capital.

Salviati went to London and approached his friend and supporter Layard who, 
along with other similarly-inclined Englishmen, including the historian William 
Drake, immediately agreed to invest in the blown-glass project. In 1866 Salviati 
and his investors established the London-based Societa Anonima Perazioni 
Salviati & C.Soon, with Zanetti supervising, Salviati’s glass blowers began to 
create an astounding variety of fine copies of the antique glass of Murano. 
Their success was immediate; the legions of wealthy tourists pouring into 
Venice desired nothing more than to return home with a glass souvenir 
evocative of Venices fabled glory days. Salviati opened his first London 
showroom at 431 Oxford Street in the summer of 1866.
In 1867, just one year after the new furnaces were fired up, Salviati presented 
the firms initial production at the Exposition Universelle de Paris. The Salviati 
exhibit was anchored by two large, pyramidal glass cases filled with a vast 
assortment of blown-glass objects. An idea of the rich and diversified range of 
the new production can be obtained from Zanettis description of the Salviati 
contribution. There were: glasses, chalices, amphoras, cruets, vases, delicately 
tinted vessels harmonious with combinations of filigree and reticello, bands of 
enamel graffito, dazzling with aventurine, ruby, aquamarine, and opal, 
with borders, flowers, butterflies, serpents, dolphins, swans, initials, masks.

Salviati encouraged his workers to surpass the achievements of their ancestors. 
While the glass produced by the new company was heavily influenced by antique 
Murano glass, the distinctive, nineteenth-century flavor of the fantasy glass that 
was to become the hallmark of Salviatis later production was already evident in 
the profusion of fanciful serpents and an extraordinary technical bravura. The firm 
won a gold medal, three silver  medals and four honorable mentions.

In 1872, reflecting a growing animosity between Salviati and his British partners, 
the name of the company was anglicized to The Venice and Murano Glass and 
Mosaic Company Limited (Salviati & Co.) In 1873 the firm exhibited and 
triumphed at the International Exhibition in Vienna. Thirteen of the firms 
glassmakers won medals.

The relationship between Salviati and his British partners continued to 
deteriorate and in 1877 the British bought out Salviatis shares. Salviati soon 
opened a new factory on Murano which he named Salviati Dott. Antonio. The 
two companies exhibited in the Italian section of the Paris International 
Exhibition of 1878. Contemporary critics found their displays too similar.
Milan’s 1881 Industrial Exhibition took place at the pinnacle of the glassmaking 
revival. All the important glassmaking factories including Salviati Dott. Antonio, 
the Compagnia Venezia-Murano, Fratelli Toso and Francesco Ferro & Figlio took 
part. Salviati, acutely aware of the promotional value of the Great Exhibitions, 
exhibited a vast array of mosaics, chandeliers, candelabra, mirrors and blown glass. 
There were historically accurate copies of gilded and enameled fifteenth-century 
vases and goblets, paleochristian glass inspired by objects found in the catacombs 
of Rome, selections of feather-weight, sixteenth-century-style essential glass, the 
so-called modern production laden with glass swans and dolphins, and beautifully-
crafted mosaic glass vessels. Salviati also exhibited a large fountain designed by 
an independent Italian artist, the painter Luigi Gasparini.

Completed only two days before the exhibition opened, the fountain was an 
intriguing combination of glass mosaic and blown glass. With this fountain 
two new, but fully-developed, Venetian glass icons made their debut – elaborate 
winged dragons and fabulous hybrid beasts (in this case hippogriffs.) Soon these 
new animal motifs would supersede the pretty swans and dolphins on Muranos 
glassware. The same vases and goblets that had once been adorned with the 
benign creatures now sported winged dragons, hippogriffs, winged horses, griffins 
and other incredible beasts. With unbridled enthusiasm, Venice finally joined the 
artistic quest the rest of the world had been pursuing. Succumbing to outside 
influences and breaking completely with her past, the ancient city credited with 
inventing virtually every known glassmaking style and technique, was at last 
able to contribute a significant and unique body of work which can be regarded 
today as the true Venetian expression of the Art Nouveau style.

At Muranos 1895 Esposizione di scelti artistici ed oggetti affini (Exhibition of 
Selected Art Glass and Allied Wares) the Artisti Barovier (formerly Salviatis 
master blowers, now independent,) eschewing their animal-laden art nouveau 
creations already well represented in the Salviati shops display, presented their 
own selection of essential vases reproduced from sixteenth-century examples. 
They won a Diploma of Honor for these and were awarded a gold medal for their 
art-nouveau items. They also exhibited a remarkable series of extremely fragile 
goblets with thin, oscillating spiraling or segmented stems which had no 
antique precedents. These 1895 goblets, stunning in their simplicity, 
are the true harbingers of the minimalist, less-is-more, 
design-by-subtraction discipline of the future.

The best place to see nineteenth-century Venetian glass is at the 
Victoria & Albert Museum in London. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art 
displays a few pieces in its Nineteenth-Century Decorative Art Galleries. 
There is of course, the Gardner & Barr Gallery in New York and my book 
Venetian Glass, Confections in Glass, 1955-1914. At this moment in time 
there is no serious attempt to forge nineteenth-century Venetian glass. 
The Venetians, of course, continue to make their traditional product. 
However, these variants are heavy-handed and for the most part will not 
be confused with genuine period pieces.

The Gardner & Barr Gallery today specializes in collectible Venetian glass from 
the 1850s to the 1950s. It is open Monday-Saturday from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM. 
It is located at 213 East 60th Street. New York, NY 10022. 212 752-0555, 
FAX: 212 355-6031, 
E-mail: gardbar@aol.com. Log on to: and follow 
the link to Gardner & Barr Gallery for more information.
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