February 10, 2014

At the Met: Carlo Scarpa's Dazzling Venetian Glass

Shaft-and-globe vase with disc foot, ca. 1932-33; white bollicine glass.
Liqueur set, ca. 1935; pale green pulegoso bollicine glass. 

There is something about beautiful objects––small things not meant for the rarified "fine art" world––that sets my heart aflutter. Perhaps it's imagining how they can be held in the hand, their forms caressed, their weight felt, that provides such intense pleasure. Currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an exhibition Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932-1947  that fulfills anyone's desire to wander among finely wrought objects, rich in color and form, inventive in technique. Carlo Scarpa was an architect and designer; as a young man in his 20s he was hired by the Venini Company as an artistic consultant; over 15 years he developed many new approaches to glassblowing. One such novel technique is a bollicine, where potassium nitrate was injected into the glass; it formed little bubbles of carbon dioxide when heated.

The bubbles in the glass add depth to the simple forms; they become mysterious presences, and even at this small size are grandly quiet.

I love the colors and shapes of this lively trio. I don't know the technique, having failed to photograph the explanatory label.

Bottle with quadrangular cross section, 1934; coral mezza filigrana glass.

This delicate and refined object is made with a very meticulous technique, mezza filigrana, that was used as early as the 16th century. Clear glass rods with milky glass at their centers are fused then blown into very thin forms.

Small bowls and vase, ca. 1934-36; sommerso mezza filigrana glass.

Here the delicacy of the mezza filigrana is wedded to another layer of glass.

Ovoid vase with twisted ribbing on the interior, ca. 1934; red and green sommerso glass with gold-leaf inclusions.

Sommerso means "submerged". In this gorgeous piece the clear glass is layered with bubble glass. We look in the opening as into the hot central core of earth. The flattened oval shape organic, and also elemental, like a form acted upon by time and gravity.

murrine romane glass

murrine romane glass

murrine romane glass

murrine romane glass

The four pieces above fascinated and delighted me. There was something so wondrous about seeing colored shapes floating in clear glass, the shapes repeated but never exactly the same, as the glass shaping process expanded and contracted them. The technique, murrine romane, is an updated ancient one: clear glass rods with colored centers were sliced and joined, then melted together and either blown or formed in a mold. There is something very painterly about these pieces.

In this detail shot you can see the bubbles in the clear glass where one rod is fused with another. The irregularity of the colored shapes, their accidental appearance adds such charm, yet the rigor of their production belies their casual-looking colors.

Vase, ca. 1936; clear dark amethyst glass with battuto finish.

As a contrast to the murrine romane glass, here is a dark vase, solid, expressing a kind of enclosed grandeur. The battuto finish is one where the glass has been engraved. The texture adds layers of meaning and mood to an elegantly formed object.

Vase, ca. 1940-42; clear glass of different colored layers with lenticular incisi decorations.

This vase is another piece I fell in love with. Its shape is so direct, almost ordinary, but then there are those raised forms floating on the subtly-colored, almost clear glass, taking me to a place far beyond the ordinary.

Bowl, ca. 1940; lightly ground black and coral murrine opache glass with central inset of black murrine opache glass. 

And finally...oh my! this bowl.....

Dish with quadrangular cross section, ca. 1940-47; lightly ground black and coral five-spot murrine opache glass arranged in a snake shape. 

....and this dish, made using the same glass-rod murrine technique as in the clear glass with color shapes above, but here in dramatic red and black. My eye can wander endlessly across these surfaces, drawn to the varying patterns and shifts of movement and shape. The fact that all these works are modest-sized, useful objects makes their beauty even more present for me; they are ambition and innovation wrapped in a small package.