This urn-shaped vase represents important historic glass making techniques whose possibilities were expanded during the revival of glass production in late 19th-century Venice. The form features two spectacular variations of glass for the viewer to enjoy and ponder. At first glance, the most eye-catching feature is the inner layer of avventurina (also known as aventurine), the metallic copper-toned glass that fills the inside of the vase. It is a result of mixing Venetian cristallo glass with gold, copper or chromic oxide.[1] The name comes from the Italian word ventura, which means adventure and references the difficulties in manufacturing the material.[2] This challenging but visually rewarding glass lightly lines the inside of this urn, its translucency revealing the patterns of the decoration on the vessel’s outer wall.

These patterns are formed by the irregular white, blue, and yellow circles on the surface of the vessel and are another type of Venetian specialty glass called murrine. The murrines are made from cane glass that is sliced into small cross-sections. Cane glass is a combination of different colors that are elongated into a single rod and can be used to create small-scale patterns. Traditionally, murrines are fused together into a single piece of glass and can be shaped to make a bowl or a dish. Here, however, they have been sliced to serve as a decorative element creating contrast against the sparkling avventurina and a sense of motion in an immobile object.

To achieve this compelling combination, the glassblower would have started with a gather of the avventurina as the original mass of glass on the end of the blowpipe. The blower would then roll the gather over the thin slices of the murrine allowing them to fuse to the outside surface. As the overall glass shape is blown and modified, the murrines expand along with the glass wall. Frozen in time, these murrines embody the movements made by the glassblower. To finish the piece, the glassblower flared out the lip of the vase and used the remaining glass cane to shape two curved handles. These techniques are a refreshing look at historic Venetian glass working methods through a turn of the 20th-century lens. While not much is written about the workshop of Francesco Ferro, he married a member of the illustrious Muranese glassmaking family Toso. This, along with the high level of skill in combining murrines and aventurine, indicates that he was active in the promotion of new technological accomplishments in Venetian glass.

 

Margaret Gaines is a candidate in the Masters Program in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies program offered jointly by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Parsons School of Design at The New School. She has been a Master’s Fellow in the Curatorial Department.

 

[1] The Corning Museum of Glass. “Glass Dictionary: Aventurine.” The Corning Museum of Glass. 2002. https://www.cmog.org/glass-dictionary/aventurine.

[2] Sacks, Susan. Venetian Glass: The Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu Collection. New York: American Craft Museum, 2000, 310

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