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Glass masters: Vittorio Zecchin's modern designs were inspired by Renaissance models.

Vittorio Zecchin: Transparent Glass for Cappellin and Venini

11 September-7 January 2018

Le Stanze del Vetro, Venice


Catalogue by Marino Barovier and Carla

Sonego (eds.)

ISBN 9788857237114 (paperback), 35 [euro]


Since its creation in 2012 and over the past five years, the Stanze del Vetro has flourished. Set in a factory-style school building on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, and renovated by the New York architect Annabelle Selldorf, the centre (a joint venture between the Fondazione Cini and Pentagram Stiftung) is, I would argue, the most successful cultural institution created in Italy in the past decade. This enlightened and rigorous organisation has encouraged the study and appreciation of glass in a city where cultural events are only too often questionable in both purpose and quality. The Stanze del Vetro shines as a beacon and model for other similar organisations in Italy and abroad.

In superb minimalist spaces glass is displayed in ideal conditions, and the exhibition programme has focused on glass production on the island of Murano in the first half of the 20th century. Every year, a show has been devoted to a towering figure in glass design, with a view towards eventually compiling a catalogue raisonne of glass produced by Venini in Murano. One after the other, Carlo Scarpa, Napoleone Martinuzzi, Tomaso Buzzi, Fulvio Bianconi, and Paolo Venini himself have inhabited the Stanze del Vetro with their whimsical creations.

This year, it is the turn of Vittorio Zecchin (1878-1947), the founder of modern artistic glass in Murano. Curated by Marino Barovier and Carla Sonego, the exhibition brings together more than 250 pieces by Zecchin, produced mostly in the 1920s. Each survey is accompanied by a hefty catalogue, which not only illustrates the objects on display, but also serves as a complete catalogue of each artist's glass production. I have never seen glass look so stunning in photographs as in Enrico Fiorese's images, reproduced here (Figs. 1 & 2). A film directed by Gianluigi Calderone complements each publication and brings each artist to life. To enter the Stanze del Vetro is to learn about the genius of glassmaking in Murano through exacting scholarship and curating.

Zecchin was born in Murano, and trained as an artist at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia. His large art nouveau paintings were heavily influenced by Klimt, but always filtered through quintessentially Venetian models: medieval mosaics and early Renaissance art. Zecchin's paintings were exhibited at Ca' Pesaro at the time of the birth of the Biennale.

But Zecchin's artistic production was not limited to painting. He became interested in the relationship between so-called 'fine arts' and 'decorative arts' very early on. He embarked on the production of embroideries, tapestries, merletti, and decorated glass. He even came up with ingenious designs for how to decorate sandwiches with vegetables and assorted condiments.

It is therefore not surprising that when the Venetian antique dealer, Giacomo Cappellin, and the young Milanese lawyer, Paolo Venini, decided to join forces and created, in the autumn of 1921, the firm Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Cappellin Venini & C., they asked Zecchin to become its artistic director. For the next four years the business prospered, but at the end of 1925 the two main partners in the enterprise --Cappellin and Venini--parted ways. Cappellin founded the Maestri Vetrai Muranesi Cappellin & C., retaining Zecchin as its director for a year and a half, before replacing him with Carlo Scarpa. Venini, instead, called Martinuzzi to direct the Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Venini & C. Zecchin's designs, however, continued to be used by both glass furnaces long after.

It must have been unanticipated, though, that an artist like Zecchin, deeply embedded in art nouveau and in the rich and complex world of

ornament, was to design for Venini and Cappellin some of the simplest, most beautiful, and elegant forms ever produced in Murano. Zecchin broke away from the traditional and precious Murano designs, still entrenched in a long-faded 18th-century reverie, and returned to the drawing table, looking at earlier, mainly Renaissance models. He ransacked designs from paintings by Holbein and Tintoretto, and his most celebrated vase took its shape from an object painted by Veronese in the large Annunciation at the Gallerie dell'Accademia, and took its name from the artist.

The masterpieces on display reveal Zecchin's inventiveness and sophistication. Few decorative elements--handles, ribbed surfaces, drops--interrupt the surface of the glass objects, but when they occur they do so in the most effective ways. Zecchin and the glassmakers of Venini and Cappellin not only dipped their imaginary brushes back in the palettes of the Venetian Renaissance, but effectively merged the art of glass with the mosaics and marble floors of the churches of Murano and Torcello. The glass objects, transparent and diaphanous, embrace the hues of porphyry and serpentine, of cipollino and gold.

The properties of Zecchin's incomparable designs are perfectly conveyed by the art critic Roberto Papini who, in 1923, wrote: 'Vittorio Zecchin, one of the most exquisite artists Italy has today, has the merit to have understood first, again, that glass from his Murano has two essential qualities: lightness and limpidity, the more evident and joyous the more they are contained in forms of simple elegance and harmony.'

Xavier F. Salomon is chief curator of the Frick Collection, New York.

Caption: 1. Vases by Vittorio Zecchin (1878-1947) in dark amethyst and smoke-coloured transparent glass with disc-shaped feet and morise decoration

Caption: 2. A selection of vases, dating from 1921-25, in transparent coloured glass with small lateral handles
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Title Annotation:EXHIBITIONS
Author:Salomon, Xavier F.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2017
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