Published: June 15, 2004
The Renaissance brought to Europe a time of turbulent change that touched politics and warfare and transformed science, religion and the arts. The rich and famous of the period considered elegant Venetian glass collectible art as well as fine tableware and they wanted to own it.
The result, to be detailed in a major exhibition at The Corning Museum of Glass this summer, was the spread across Europe of glassmaking in the Venetian fashion. The exhibition is titled “Beyond Venice, Glass in Venetian Style, 1500-1750” and will be open through October 17. This will be the first major show to explore in detail the impact of Venetian-style glassmaking across Renaissance Europe.
During the time period addressed by the exhibition, Europe was crisscrossed by a web of personal, diplomatic and commercial networks set up by the princely elite and rich merchant traders. These networks helped bring Italian craftsmen to glasshouses in Austria, Spain, France, the Low Countries and England despite attempts by Venice to protect its secrets.
“We are bringing together for the first time more than 120 historic glass objects that have never before been seen together,” said Dr David B. Whitehouse, executive director of the museum and curator of the exhibition.
More than a third of the pieces on display come from the museum’s own collection. Others are on loan from a galaxy of museums, including the Louvre, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boijmans-Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam and the Museum of Decorative Arts in Barcelona.
Objects from the museum’s own outstanding collection explore the anatomy of the Venetian style, highlighting the elements that made Renaissance Venetian glass more sophisticated and appealing than other glass of the time, which tended to be thick-walled and green or yellow in color.
The exhibits also include images that put the glass objects clearly in historical and cultural context. In five successive exhibit islands, visitors can “travel” through Renaissance Europe to see how Venetian stylistic elements were altered to reflect local tastes and glassmaking skills in Austria, Spain, France, the Low Countries and England. Almost from the beginning, distinct differences began to appear.
“After a time, it was like one language with five very different accents,” said Dr Whitehouse.
For example, the Venetian dragon-stem goblet has a narrow bowl and a tall stem made from a drawn-out piece of cane that has been twirled into the convoluted body of a dragon with snout, mouth and two wings at one end. In the Low Countries, the Venetian-style goblet had no dragon, just a complicated stem and wings that were unlike those made in Venice.
Many objects in the exhibition bear the coats of arms of royal families. Among the oldest are three objects probably commissioned to mark the wedding of King Louis XII of France to Anne of Brittany in 1498. Others celebrate the marriage of Medicis to French royalty and a noblewoman of Mantua to the Archduke of Austria.
The Venetians’ eminence in glassmaking was achieved in part through careful attention to the technology of glassmaking. For example, they used quartz pebbles rather than sand to avoid impurities that could give the glass unwanted color. Learning these and other secrets of the Venetian success took many decades for some of the new glasshouses in Europe. Even then, some still found it impossible to obtain the fine ingredients used by Venice.
“The Beyond Venice” exhibition can be seen in full only at The Corning Museum of Glass. A smaller version will appear later at the Boijmans-Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam.
A hardcover, 350-page book with many color illustrations and written by authors from five different countries accompanies the exhibit and is available for purchase. An eight-page color brochure is available to those touring the exhibits.
Jutta-Ann Page, former curator of European glass at the museum, led preparations for the exhibition. She is now curator of glass and decorative arts at the Toledo Museum of Art.
“The Italian Influence in Contemporary Glass,” a companion exhibit to “Beyond Venice,” is displayed on the museum’s West Bridge to October 31. All pieces in this show, including works from such artists as Dale Chihuly and Marvin Lipofsky, are from the museum’s collection.
The Corning Museum of Glass is on One Museum Way. For information, 607-937-5371 or www.cmog.org.
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