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Beyond Venice 
Glass in the Venetian Style 1500-1750

by Bob Brooke


An exhibit at The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, Beyond Venice: Glass in Venetian Style, 1500-1750, provides a glittering look at the movement of Venetian glassmaking techniques throughout Europe during one of history’s most intriguing time periods.

As the first major show to explore in detail the effect of the Venetian style of glassmaking across Renaissance Europe, Beyond Venice brings together more than 120 spectacular 16th, 17th and 18th-century European glass objects for the first time.

What sets Venetian glassmaking apart from other types? Glassmaking in Venice can be traced back to Roman times but only acquired its special place in the decorative art world when the city moved its foundries to the island of Murano in 1291. Murano became one of Europe’s major centers of glass production since its glass was one of only a few commodities that could be exported from Venice.

During the Renaissance, Europe’s elite classes coveted Venetian glass as collectable art and fine tableware. As a result, European glasshouses lured Venetian glass masters away from Venice to work in their local establishments.

So jealous was Venice of its trade secrets that it declared any Murano glass worker, who went to a rival city to work, a trader to be hunted down by state assassins. However, this rarely occurred so Venetian glass making spread throughout Europe, as this exhibit readily shows. Instead, a worker’s assets might be sequestered and their families briefly imprisoned.

Murano began to export glass on a large scale in the mid-14th Century, at first specializing in mirrors. Its workers then developed enameled glass, mostly in dark colors, and crystalline glass, noted for its extraordinary transparency. Later, it invented a type of glass called aventurine and discovered milfiori, meaning a thousand flowers, an ancient technique that involved mixing strands of colored and transparent glass. It also became known for its colored glasses that resembled gemstones.

The also discovered ghiaccio, which replicated the surface of ice, and graffitto, into which they scratched motifs into the glass surface, as well as stellaria, a glass threaded with copper crystals. One of their most amazing types of glass was filigrana, in which they laid white glass in patterns over a plan base. Venetian glassmakers also created a milky glass called lattimo, from latte meaning milk, and latticino, a blend of the former with clear glass.

Murano’s glass industry fell into decline at the turn of the 16th Century, when foreign glassmakers began to figure out its secrets. Soon, glassmakers from France and the Low Countries began to overtake them in the marketplace.

Beyond Venice guides you on a tour through Renaissance Venice, Austria, France, Spain, the Low Countries, and England, showcasing the regional differences in glassmaking from each region.

"After a time, it was like one language with several different dialects," describes Dr. David B. Whitehouse, executive director of the Museum and curator of the exhibition.

Among the many treasures you’ll find in Beyond Venice are several objects that bear the coats of arms of royal families. In fact, some of the oldest pieces in the show are a 500-year old dish and bowl, probably commissioned to mark the wedding of King Louis XII of France to Anne of Brittany in 1499. But one of the most notable is the "Rembrandt Tazza," a glass cup featured in Rembrandt’s painting, "The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis," painted from 1661-1662.

Over 50 percent of the objects in the exhibition are from the extensive collection of The Corning Museum of Glass. The remainder have been loaned to the Museum from other top international museums, including the Louvre, the British Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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