A GREAT HISTORY. MURANO GLASS
Enlarged and completely refurbished, the Museo del Vetro di Murano (Murano Glass Museum) re-opens its doors
From February 9, 2015
Saturday, February 7
Press preview for accredited journalists
Sunday, February 8
Inauguration by invitation only
What will greet the public at Murano from February 9 will be a completely transformed museum, ready to illustrate a great history. The exhibition spaces have been almost doubled, the layout totally renewed, and the new displays and themes will enable visitors to discover the key milestones in the history of Murano glass and enjoy the – in many cases unique – masterpieces the museum conserves. There are also new conveniences for the public, the building has been made disabled friendly, two lifts have been added and it is now possible to display part of the holdings hitherto in storage, and also arrange events linked to modern creativity, with a fascinating and unexpected dialogue between contemporary settings and antique rooms.
The re-opening will be cause for great celebration on the island and in Venice generally.
The Museo del Vetro di Murano, one of the 12 museums belonging to the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, is perhaps the only place in the world where the art of glassmaking is recounted from its origins: from the examples of Roman glass dating from the 1st to 3rd century AD to the creations of the Renaissance and virtuoso innovations of the 18th century, which looked forward to the unhoped-for revival of glass at the end of the 19th century and experiments of the 20th. Certainly it is the only museum dedicated to artistic glass located within an active and firmly rooted context of actual production, thanks to the many furnaces and glassmakers still working on Murano. The enlargement, with the recovery of a part of the former Conterie, and the restyling, supervised by Chiara Squarcina, based on a museographical layout by Gabriella Belli, director of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia and with layout by Daniela Ferretti, has been made possible thanks to combined backing from the European Union’s Fund for Regional Development assigned to the Veneto Region (as part of the POR CRO FESR Veneto 2007-2013) and to the fundamental intervention of the Venice Municipality, which was responsible for the first phase of the project under the direction of Roberto Benvenuti, in collaboration with the Fondazione’s Technical Office, directed by Daniela Andreozzi.
In this way, the project has involved both the historic rooms of Palazzo Giustinian (in which the museum has been located since 1861), and a part of the former glass beads factory next to the museum’s garden.
The conterie were beads of pâte de verre and, in particular from the end of the 19th century, beads produced from the so-called paternostreriby cutting a hollow rod and rounding off the little cylinders produced with heat in ferrazze, or special metal containers. In 1898, a number of companies involved in the production of glass beads – a world of tiracanne, conzaureri, tagiadori, cavarobe, fregadori, lustradori, governadori, impiraresse – joined forces in the complex built Palazzo Giustinian and the Basilica di San Donato, in the heart of Murano, setting up a single large company, Società Veneziana Conterie, which between 1940 and 1970 employed more than 3000 workers, until it closed in 1993.
Today, the restored spaces of this industrial factory have become a fascinating ‘white cube’, which maintains the architectural lines of the earlier structure in the arches and trabeation, and which combines artificial and natural light from its position on the Fondamenta Giustinian.
Here, an original “time wave”, marked by 50 works ranging in date from Roman times to the 20th century, gives an initial introduction to the world of glass, giving interesting examples of the main milestones in the history of Murano glass and the technical and aesthetic developments that have accompanied it. Because the art of glass is a magical combination of creativity and craft, a difficult symbiosis between artistic design, manual ability, an almost alchemical skill in the construction of unique chemical compounds, and knowledge of an evasive and unpredictable material. All ingredients that are well explained throughout the museum thanks to totems containing information and video content, produced in collaboration with the island’s factories and master glassmakers.
With its open space and 7-metre-high ceiling, the new structure will also offer temporary exhibitions and events on the ground floor: the first of these, from February 9 to May 30, will be a selection of black and white objects forming a heartfelt tribute to the magical sculptor of glass that was the Murano-born Luciano Vistosi, who died in 2010 after years of international success achieved thanks to his strongly three-dimensional, dynamic, impressive sculptures that capture light.
The main displays of the museum are located on the first piano nobile, where the museum offers its exceptional collection, with the new layout and lighting, through a series of thematic and chronological areas.
The impressive entrance reveals the sumptuous central drawing room, or portego, with an allegorical fresco on the ceiling by Francesco Zugno, restored for the new opening. The large room, named after the frequently anonymous masters of Murano, is the expression of the glassmaking production from the 14th to the end of the 17th century; the golden age of Murano glass. It was in those years that the skills applied in the Venetian furnaces were acclaimed throughout Europe thanks to the innovations in technology and techniques: years in which in Venice Angelo Barovier produced a pure substance called “crystal”, to which engraved decoration with diamond-tipped tools was added, and in which “ice glass” was invented, together with filigree decoration and the “mezza stampatura” (“half mould”) technique. Many exceptional works are on display: items with the coat of arms of the doge or of popes, famous creations such as the cesendello decorated with grooves and gold – a characteristic ceiling lamp based on Oriental models – and unique items like the famous Coppa Barovier, dated 1470-80, one of the oldest articles of glass in the world to be decorated with molten polychrome enamels. From the drawing room, before moving on to the 18th-century items, visitors can enter a sort of ‘cave’ containing a parenthesis dedicated to Roman glass, used as models by the Murano-based glassmakers when production first began on the island, and still able to inspire designers and artists in the 20th century. In the room dedicated to “Origins”, niches illuminated from within reveal – as though emerging from the depths of the earth – the antique glassware found in excavations and in the necropolises of Enona, Asseria and Zara, while ancient funerary vases are displayed along the walls.
The fashions and creativity of the 18th century follows this section, with the Trionfo group belonging to the Morosini family, the highly original fixés sous verre showing Venetian scenes in the manner of Pietro Longhi, and some notable mirrors from Murano. This last was one of the island’s points of excellence, sought after but inimitable abroad; for the most imposing creations, they required the work of no less than five masters.
The room dedicated to the “Taste for mimesis” in the 18th and 19th century, with chalcedony blown glass, the famous lattimi or opalescent glass and the “extravagant” and “deceptive” aventurine, mark the return to non-transparent glass; while in the loft, which unexpectedly overlooks the space of the Conterie thanks to a large window, there is a focus on Venetian beads and murrine. Here, visitors can admire murrine byFranchini, the above-mentioned conterie and also late 19th-century lampwork beads and samples; an extremely important collection that has never hitherto been part of the museum display.
The “dark” years of Murano glass are evoked through glassware, furnishings and paintings revealing the Central European taste of the early 19th century and the spread of Bohemian articles through the lagoon, facilitated by the imposition of taxes by the Habsburg authorities on imported raw materials and the export of local production.
19th and 20th century and, finally, “revival”.
Among the protagonists of this period are Pietro Bigaglia who revived the production of filigree work, and Antonio Salviati who in 1866 opened a manufactory at Murano producing blown glass and the following year presented more than 500 different types of glass at the Universal Expo of Paris.
And finally, the 20th century, with the brilliant creations of Vittorio Zecchin, Archimede Seguso, Alfredo Barbini, Carlo Scarpaand Napoleone Martinuzzi – of whose work the museum also presents a group of works from the 1920s, received as a donation – and of many other artists who, together with the highly skilled master glassmakers able to shape glass, opened the way to modernity.
After returning to the ground floor, before leaving the museum, visitors will find a “window” on modern and contemporary design in a room named after Marie Angliviel de la Beaumelle, later Brandolini: the recently-deceased creator of the famous goti, whom the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia wishes to commemorate as a non-Italian artist who used Murano glass as her means of expression and thereby contributed to its international fame.
Here, thanks to the deliberately flexible layout, it will be possible to display works from the museum’s holdings that are currently in storage, exhibit works by young artists, and present selections of the most important current production on the island. Because, especially now that its spaces have been enlarged, the museum aims to maintain a live link with today’s glass production in Murano, with its exponents, their creations, the successes and periods of crisis. In line with abbot Vincenzo Zanetti who founded it, the museum wishes to be a stimulus and point of reference for master glassmakers and companies: a historical memory and documentation of a mysterious and fascinating universe for those drawn into it for the first time, and an ambassador for the world of a unique, precious form of art. The international collaborations, major temporary exhibitions, projects and competitions will also serve in this, for a museum that will increasingly offer propositional relations and dialogues with all of the collections belonging to the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia: painting, sculpture, furnishings, costume, archive materials.
Already with the re-opening, in the museum garden visitors will be able to admire a huge sculpture by Pietro Consagra, Muraglia Rosso Verona e Nero Atlantide dated 1977 (marble, 330 x 280 x 56 cm) belonging to the Walter Fontana collection and on long-term loan to the Fondazione. Alongside the wall of the former Conterie, this sculpture acquires an extraordinary expressive force.