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Venetian glass stands apart from other glassware in its remarkable thinness, its rare color effects and its shapessimple, amazingly complex or decorated. This glass, made for six centuries on this Venetian island, has never been surpassed. Many methods employed by its early manufacturers are still craft secrets.
While the makers of Venetian glass on Murano Island are creating a few new forms inspired by the art of the past, many of the designs for bowls, vases and jars are copies of pieces made in the sixteenth century. Examples of fragile glass articles have been obviously hard to find intact after 400 years of European turbulence. Yet, with the ardor of lovers of beauty, designers of Venetian glass have sought to recover old designs from ancient wood engravings, tapestries, bric-a-brac and paintings.
One wonderful lost design became available because Holbein was so fond of putting into his pictures beautiful objects of the times. Reproductions of the ancient form he pictured may now be had in delicate, thin glass-a slender necked, two-handled vase with a tapering gobletlike form ending in a broad, round base. A picture by Paul Veronese done in the sixteenth century enabled the glass blowers to reproduce a charming bowl-shaped bit of glass in a delicate straw color with a small neck and broad base.
As befits the most artistic glassware of Europe, the hues in Venetian glass are not common. Precious and semi-precious stones have given both their colors and their names to the lavenders and yellows and blues that help to make this product distinctive. Among the earliest uses of glass was that of imitating precious stones. Venice supplied the Orient as well as Europe with false pearls, amethysts, turquoises, rubies and other gems. Colors of other origins also are used-coralina, suggestive of the pink of coral; aquamarine, opalescent-crystal, gold.
The tendency today is to resurrect the simpler patterns of the height of the art of Venetian glass-making rather than the ornate ones developed later. During this second period began the slow decadence of design that lasted until twentieth century makers of Venetian glassware began to revive the better work.
For hundreds of years when their industry was at its height artistically the rulers of the island republic tried in every way to keep secret their methods of making this exquisite ware. The island of Murano was made the seat of the glass industry. Workmen caught leaving the place or divulging the secrets of the craft were punished with death. In spite of these efforts to keep the industry in their own hands, workers with knowledge of methods and patterns gradually penetrated other countries.
There is something almost ethereal in Venetian glass. One bit in a room may give to the corner where it is placed a touch of high beauty. A bowl on a window ledge will show against the light all its grace and color. As containers for flowers the vases or bowls contribute to the decorative result, and the clear crystal sides of the container permit the stems of the flowers to show their lines. On a table or low chest one of the broad, shallow, circular platters will afford an admirable setting for a small bronze figure.
This radiant glass is especially suited to rooms suggestive of Italian, Spanish or even eighteenth century Georgian style, where the exotic touch in decoration so often found a place. But because of the variety of hues in which Venetian glass may be obtained, and because of the many sizes and shapes, admirable results may be achieved by adding a bit of it to almost any interior.
For formal rooms there are reproductions of those Venetian glass chandeliers that once thrilled our ancestors. In one seen recently, a seventeenth century pattern, the topaz candle arms curved with all the grace of flower stems. Tiny sapphire blue pendants, dangling here and there, added to its charm. Another design in light green glass was a modern copy of an ancient silver Tuscan oil lamp with three lights.