Monday, February 25, 2013

Venetian glass ewer

This elegant ewer was created in one of the many glass factories on the island of Murano adjacent to the Italian city of Venice.  Since the 10th century, Venice had boasted a proud tradition of decorative glass production because of its surplus of skilled craftsmen who emigrated there from Aquiteia and Byzantium, access to world trade and markets, and abundant raw materials.  As early as the 13th century many Northern Italian towns had developed glassmaking guilds, but Venetian craftsmen would dominate this industry for the next five centuries.  Glass production was exiled to the nearby island of Murano in 1292 to safeguard Venice from accidental fire.  The Grand Council of the city also ensured its exclusive domination of the glass industry by banning the emigration of glass artisans and the divulging of trade secrets – both crimes were punishable by death.

Venetian glassmakers used an enameling process developed in the 15th century to decorate vessels with complex, detailed figure designs, possibly reinterpreting nearby Islamic or Italian metalwork designs.  Other objects were decorated with Renaissance scenes usually inspired by classical Roman subjects.  Venetian artists perfected methods for making rich, refractive colors such as blue, opaque white, green, purple, red, and turquoise.  Techniques were invented for shaping and decorating glass by blowing shapes around molds, and decorating glassware with trails, threads, or blobs (prunts) of glass.  The fashion for profusely ornamented glass eventually overpowered the beauty, purity of color and light refraction of the glass itself in Venetian wares.

By 1832, Renaissance-era glass techniques were beginning to be revived in Venice.  Other European glass factories began to imitate Venetian glass products.  In 1864, the first exhibition of Venetian glass was displayed in Venice’s Palazzo Giustinia museum.  Two years later, Antonio Salviati established a glass furnace in the Palazzo Mula in Venice and began reproducing traditional Venetian glass objects on a large scale.  Other Muranese glassmakers followed Salviati in making ‘pastiches,’ or imitations of sixteenth and seventeenth-century Venetian glass for the tourist market.

This light green glass ewer’s gracefully elongated body, applied handle and large spout is decorated with polychrome enamel painted in Renaissance-derived scroll-shaped floral designs on a gold vermicelli background, above and below which are horizontal rows of gilt scales highlighted with tiny painted enamel dots.  The clarity of glass color, graceful body, and intricate colorful decoration of this ewer exemplify the finest of 19th century Venetian glassware. 

This ewer was a gift to John Glessner from his daughter Fanny in 1884 to honor her parent’s 14th wedding anniversary, as noted by Frances Glessner’s journal entry of December 7th: “Fanny gave her Papa a Venetian glass ewer . . .”  Her gift was placed atop a bookcase in the library of the Glessner home at 261 West Washington Street, and later on the mantle of the library in their Prairie Avenue home, where it is now displayed.  Certainly John Glessner thought of this object when describing the family’s “collections of Gallé and Venetian and other rare glass . . .” in 1923 when he penned his history of the house and its contents, The Story of a House. 

NOTE:  When the Prairie Avenue house was under construction, Richardson’s office ordered lamp globes for the main hall and parlor fixtures from Salviati’s firm.  The company, now known as Salviati & Sons, created reproduction globes for the new wall sconces that are now on display in these rooms.


  1. A very interesting history of Venetian glass, particularly the ewer that looks really extraordinary! The intricate details of the ewer are just unbelievable. It gives ample proof of how skillful the Venetian glassmakers have been. A truly wonderful gift to John Glessner! Thanks for sharing plenty of facts with curious readers like me!

  2. Very good description of Murano glass history! Thanks for your post.


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