Murano Sommerso Glass
Murano Sommerso glass is a distinctive type of Italian art glass made on the island of Murano. It is considered highly collectible.
The term “summerso” translates as “submerged” or “sunken”. When applied to art glass it denotes layers of contrasting colour (typically two), which are created by submerging wares in molten glass. Sommerso was developed in Murano during the late1930s and was made popular by Seguso d'Arte during the 1950s.
Collectible Italian art glass hails from the Venetian island of Murano. Purists posit that the term "Muranao art glass" is only applicable to those items produced on the island.
Since Venetians were frightened that the furnaces used in the glassmaking process had the potential to get out of control and torch Venice, glassmakers were banished to the island of Murano in 1291. From this time, Murano became a hub of glassmaking activity.
Although the mid-19th century saw a great deal of experimentation and innovation, it is glass hailing from the 1950s and 1960s that is of the most interest to collectors.
Arguably, Ercole Barovier was the most significant and influential figure in terms of glass making during the 1920s and 1930s. Able to track his family’s glassmaking roots back to the Italian Renaissance, when his family’s first company, Artisti Barovier, was established in 1878, Barovier knew a great deal about art glass manufacture - and put his extensive knowledge to good use. With Barovier at its helm, In 1920, the family firm changed its name to Vetreria Artistica Barovier & Co., which lasted until its merger with Ferro Toso in 1936.
Before Ercole Barovier took over the firm’s designs, his family’s company hired some of the best glass masters in Murano, including future Venini legend Vittorio Zecchini.
Zecchini famously produced murrine mosaic paintings on the sides of vases.
Other prime examples of artistry combine several techniques—for example, a murrine goblet depicting flowers against a blue-sky background might have a very traditional, decorative Venetian knob between the goblet’s bowl and foot.
Another Italian firm, Ferro Toso, was celebrated throughout the 1920s and early 1930s for vases that juxtaposed classic Venetian forms with bold coloration. Toso’s Primavera series is particularly coveted among collectors of Italian art glass, as are the pieces that were made using a new technique developed by Toso for producing hot coloured glass.
The post-war years were unquestionably Murano’s most significant in terms of artistry, experimentation and, duly, collectibility.
During the 1940s, Barovier & Toso produced clear, thick pieces with richly textured surfaces known as "Lenti", as well as the beautiful and brightly coloured vases in the now-rare Oriente series.
In the 1950s, Barovier & Toso launched flat-side cylindrical vases in basketweave cane patterns and checkerboard designs.
Seguso Vetri d’Arte was another firm that made great commercial and artistic progress in the 1930s but really flourished after the war.
Some of its thick, organic-shaped vases were three-sided, while others were twisted and pulled until they resembled a snake or length of rope. Salviati’s Dino Martens brought a more painterly sensibility to Murano glass, using vase and jug forms as canvases for vividly coloured abstract-expressionistic statements that were perfectly in tune with the Mid-century Modern aesthetic of the day. These pieces remain extremely coveted among collectors and can command large sums at auction.
Venini is perhaps the most highly regarded post war Italian art glass manufacturer. In addition to the skills of Paolo Venini himself, who perfected the sommerso technique in the 1930s and used the traditional technique of inciso to create vases that appeared to luminate from within, the company attracted architects, designers and artists such as Carlo Scarpa, Fulvia Bianconi, and Gio Ponti to Murano.
Scarpa's modernism was especially highly regarded, and after he left Venini, he devoted himself to architecture. Scarpa's son Tobia was also employed by Venini for some years.
Bianconi took his background as an illustrator and applied it to glass, using the emphatic forms produced by Venini’s glassblowers as armatures for his witty explorations of colour—patchworks, horizontal stripes, and polka dots were common among his wares.
Ponti was an architect by training but Venini stimulated the artist in him. He created flared vases constructed of nothing but multi-colored lengths of cane for Venini, as well as vessels enveloped in frilly spirals, suggesting the frills of a skirt. Even his most ostensibly conservative pieces contained colourful idiosyncrasies, such as a bulbous-bottomed bottle whose body is perfectly bisected by a shift from red to green.
Due to Murano glass' popularity and success with collectors, styles of glassware that originated on the island of Murano have been produced elsewhere - usually in line with significantly lower standards.
A great deal of "Murano" glass sold on eBay and at trade and antiques fairs is actually produced in China.
Collectors are encouraged to make sure the glass that they are purchasing is genuine.
When collecting glass, to avoid buying replica and reproduction items, it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with contemporary glassware of Chinese origin.
A Murano Sommerson Vase by Flavio Pole (pictured) sold for $70 at Mid-Hudson Auction Galleries in June 2009.
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