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Strangeness and fantasy: notes on nineteenth-century Venetian glass at the National Gallery of Victoria


When Charles Locke Eastlake (1836–1906), nineteenth-century architect and nephew of the eminent Victorian connoisseur Sir Charles Eastlake, came to the subject of modern glass in his famous Hints on Household Taste – a treatise devoted primarily to furniture design but also to that which our contemporary broadsheets prefer to call ‘design for living’ – he dismissed British and Bohemian glass in favour of an account of the superior virtues he perceived in the ‘elegancies’ and table glass of Venice.1C. L. Eastlake, Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details (3rd edn, 1872), Westmead, 1971, ch. X. As ‘Queen of the Adriatic’, Venice, and in particular her lagoon island of Murano, was acknowledged at the time as an ancient and legendary seat of fine glassmaking. However, for many generations and indeed almost up to the date of Eastlake’s writing, the Venetian glass industry had been scarcely more than a mere spectre of its former glorious self. 

Universally revered in both the east and the west since the thirteenth century, Venetian glassmaking had been plunged into a vortex of decline and despair, partly as a consequence of the republic’s declining political might from the early eighteenth century, and of its eventual extinction with the signing of the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1798. This Franco-Austrian pact brought to an abrupt halt some 1100 years of Venetian independence and marked the beginning of a humiliating era of foreign dominion. It is worthy of note, however, that Venetian-style (facon de Venise) glass was being made elsewhere in Europe long before this date (fig. 1). 

 

Both of these forms are typical of the early Venetian and façon de Venise glass that served as models for glassmakers in the nineteenth century. Comparable examples to the flat-bodied vase/flask are in the Museo Vetrario di Murano; the Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg; and the Robert Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

An early indignity suffered by the Venetians during this period of foreign sovereignty, and one that afflicted the glass industry in particular, was the enforced dismantling of the city’s ancient and influential guilds. The disenfranchised Venetian glass industry was henceforth capable only of a desultory production of beads, trinkets and basic functional items. As a consequence, Venetian glass scarcely features in the development of new styles and progressive idioms until the much-fêted revival of fine glassmaking in Venice that occurs in the 1850s and 1860s. It was this revival that prompted Eastlake’s enthusiasm for Venetian glass, as we discover in the ‘Table Glass’ chapter of Hints on Household Taste

In no other direction that can be named – neither in the design of cabinet-work, ceramic ware, or jewellery – have we moderns realised so nearly the tastes and excellences of a by-gone age; and it will be a curious coincidence if, after years of humiliation and bondage, Venice should be enabled to revive one of the sources of her ancient wealth in the same epoch which has restored her to political and national freedom.2ibid., p. 258. 

Curious coincidence or not, the mid-nineteenth-century revival of the Venetian glass industry indeed occurred more or less simultaneously with the Risorgimento – the heroic campaign for the unification of Italy’s independent states and provinces – and, more specifically, with the eventual liberation of Venetia from foreign supremacy. 

However, while Cavour’s Risorgimento signified radical and wholesale reform – with a complex and divisive state of affairs giving way to a new and streamlined socio-political order – the cultural risorgimento, if we may describe it as such, and specifically the revival of Venetian glassmaking, was not strictly a matter of creating some radically new stylistic order or aesthetic schema. In effect, the renaissance of glassmaking in Venice was concerned as much with the regaining of lost ground as with the exploration of new ideas and directions in artistic achievement. That is, it sought the rediscovery or fresh mastery of lapsed technical skills, and the revivification of the long-abandoned stylistic idioms associated with early Venetian glass. Secondly, but no less importantly, it sought to rekindle a sense of collective self-esteem within the closeknit community of master-glassblowers and their hierarchical cast of supporting bravi, whose families had laboured for generations in the unforgiving heat and tumult of Murano’s roaring furnaces – to earn widespread acclaim for the characteristically thin and delicate ‘metal’ the Venetians called cristallo.3It had long been a quest for glassmakers to devise a type of glass that was clear, transparent and free from the discoloration caused by chemical impurities in the ‘batch’ – they sought a kind of artificial equivalent, in effect, for the highly prized natural hardstone known as rock crystal (a type of quartz). Rock crystal was a traditional medium for lapidaries, who carved the substance into elaborate vessels and reliquaries. The term cristallo alludes to the clarity and transparency of Venetian glass relative to other early glass. Even so, much Venetian glass did, in fact, reveal a slight grey or brown tint. 

None of which is to suggest, however, that Venetian glass of the nineteenth century is notable solely for its technical virtuosity in the replication of historical models, nor for basking in the reflected glory of antique achievement. This would be a misrepresentation of the case. In spite of the obvious fact that much nineteenth-century Venetian glass is historicist in character, and in many cases does reproduce specific antique models – rather as Wedgwood re-created the Portland Vase in jasperware – the best examples are distinguished by certain idiosyncrasies of handling, by a noticeable difference in the appearance of the ‘metal’ itself, and by a heightened eloquence of manner. 

Nevertheless, as the popularity of Venetian revivalist glass burgeoned in the 1860s, there was some concern that the modern ‘reproductions’ were so convincing in every detail that collectors might be deceived and mistake them for antique ‘originals’. The Art Journal in 1866 addressed the issue, concluding that the modern pieces could ‘scarcely be distinguished’ from the early prototypes.4‘Modern Enamel Mosaics, and the Reproduction of Venetian Glass in the Nineteenth Century’, Art Journal, London, August 1866, P. 257. The author, who is identified by the initials ‘W. C.’, outlines briefly the rise of the original Venetian glass industry, the manufacture of enamel-mosaics, and the glassmaking revival in the second half of the nineteenth century; the efforts of Antonio Salviati with respect to this revival are discussed in some detail. 

For an appreciation of the character and calibre of this revivalist glass, we may turn to the remarkable and extensive holdings of the National Gallery of Victoria. The Gallery’s glass collection includes well over one hundred examples purchased from the 1880 International Exhibition, which opened in Melbourne on 1 October 1880 at the newly completed Royal Exhibition Buildings in the Carlton Gardens. Taken in conjunction with some earlier glass acquired in 1871 – as the young institution’s very first purchase in this area – and with a recently acquired late-nineteenth-century millefiori or murrine vase (fig. 2), these holdings of Venetian glass reveal a diverse array of generic forms and decorative types and provide a particularly strong representation of the revivalist idiom – an idiom that only lately has begun to attract the serious attention of scholars and the art market alike. It should also be noted that in 1874 a ‘small collection’ of Venetian glass – identified in the Gallery’s acquisitions register as ‘reproductions of old Venetian glass made by Dr [Antonio] Salviati’5National Gallery stockbook, 1870s–1880s, Medieval and Renaissance, no. D1R, National Gallery of Victoria, p. 28. – was acquired for £3 13s 6d. Later still, in 1889, a group of three small seventeenth-century Venetian vessels, each winsomely described in the register as being of ‘curious shape’,6National Gallery stockbook, no. D1R, p. 31. came to the Gallery as the gift of one Prof. E. H. Giglioli. 

Let us initially consider the circumstances of the Gallery’s early acquisitions of Venetian glass, taking a sample of several typical and distinguished items as the basis of these brief observations. 

First, however, it may be worthwhile to recall that there is a specific Eastlake connection in the chronicles of the Gallery’s formative years. In 1863, Sir Charles Eastlake (1793–1865), Charles Locke Eastlake’s uncle, had been engaged as overseas adviser by what was known as the Commission for the Fine Arts in Victoria. His brief was to ‘designate a certain number of original paintings by modem artists … suitable to be placed in the Victorian Gallery of Art’.7L. B. Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 to 1968: A Search for a Collection, Melbourne, [1970], p. 12. The decorative arts as such did not feature in this early initiative, and some eight years would elapse before the first acquisitions of glass would enter the Gallery’s collections, by which time Eastlake had died. Interestingly, at about this time there was also a short-lived arrangement with Eastlake’s contemporary, John Ruskin (1819–1900), who was also a great champion of modem Venetian glass. Like Eastlake, Ruskin considered that the fluid and gestural idiom developed by the Venetians corresponded perfectly with the intrinsic ductility of the medium (fig. 3). Both Eastlake and Ruskin deplored the prevailing fashion in Britain for heavy, elaborately cut glass, which they considered to be a style contrary to the medium’s very nature, and it is in this context that Ruskin made his notorious condemnation of all cut glass as ‘barbarous’.8J. Ruskin, The Stones of Venice (1853), vol. 2, London, 1907, p. 361: ‘All work in glass is bad which does not, with loud voice, proclaim one or other of these qualities [ductility and transparency]. Consequently, all cut glass is barbarous for the cutting conceals its ductility and confuses it with crystal’. As with Eastlake, however, Ruskin’s advice to the Commissioners in Melbourne was confined to paintings, and in Ruskin’s case to paintings in watercolour.9For a general account of Eastlake’s and Ruskin’s affiliation with the Gallery as advisers to the Commission for the Fine Arts in Victoria, see Cox, pp. 12–18, 31–2. 

The Gallery’s acquisitions register shows that in 1871 a consignment of 102 examples of ‘old Venetian or Murano’10National Gallery stockbook, no. D1R, p. 13. glass, attributed to the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, reached Melbourne. The pieces are recorded as having been ‘procured in Venice by the Committee of the National Gallery through the assistance of the Consul-General of the Kingdom of Italy’.11National Gallery stockbook, no. D1R, p. 13. Of most interest, though, is that the selection appears to have been made by no less distinguished an authority than Abbot Vincenzo Zanetti (1824–1883). It was by the efforts of Zanetti that the Museo Vetrario on Murano had been established in 1861 with the intention of promoting traditional Murano techniques and of providing contemporary artisans with access to authentic antique specimens and documents, as sources of inspiration and instruction. The founding of the Museo Vetrario was an important impetus in the revival of glassmaking in Venice. 

In the event, most of the glass in the 1871 consignment was disappointingly – though perhaps predictably – of seventeenth- or eighteenth-century date. Nonetheless, the selection did include a number of pieces of glass attributed to the prominent Miotti and Briati families. The entire consignment was purchased for the sum of £108. 

Over the past fifty years or so, the Gallery has acquired various examples of Venetian glass in a more systematic endeavour to assemble a small core of works illustrative of the principal Venetian types and decorative processes. Additionally, the acquisition in two stages (in 1968 and 1973), through the William and Margaret Morgan Endowment,12The Endowment was established by William and Margaret Morgan of Melbourne to facilitate the purchase for the National Gallery of Victoria of the comprehensive collection of antique glass assembled in Sydney during the 1950s and 1960s by G. Gordon Russell and offered to the Gallery on generous terms. The Russell collection came to the Gallery in two consignments, in 1968 and 1973. It chiefly comprised British glass of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. of the celebrated Gordon Russell collection of British and Continental antique glass saw a number of important Venetian works, among them two glasses of the familiar Greene–Morelli type,13John Greene (d. 1703) was a founder and master of the Glass Sellers’ Company in London. There survive today a number of drawings of glasses associated with orders dispatched by Greene, on behalf of the Glass Sellers’ Company, to Alessio Morelli (active 1667–1672), a glassmaker in Venice. The sketches indicate the kinds of glasses that were being imported into Britain in the late seventeenth century. Two works from the Gordon Russell collection – a wine glass of an inverted conical shape and an oil and vinegar cruet – as well as a further wine glass in the Gallery’s collection, correspond to certain outline drawings in the Greene–Morelli correspondence. come into the Melbourne collection. 

 

The small ewer or cruet at the left and the covered sweetmeat dish with vetro a fili decoration replicate well-known seventeenth-century models. A similar nineteenth-century cruet and covered sweetmeat dish are in the Robert Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Comparable covered sweetmeat dishes are also in the Corning Museum of Glass and the Museo Vetrario di Murano. 

The real focus of this article, however, is the highly ambitious purchase of Venetian glass made by the Gallery from the Italian exhibit at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition (figs 4a, 4b & 4c). Many of the 131 examples purchased were reproductions of celebrated pieces in notable European collections, including the British Museum in London, the Musée de Cluny in Paris, and the Museo Vetrario di Murano. The selection, acquired for the sum of £210, also included smaller groups of glass made by the Compagnia Venezia-Murano (the Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company Limited (Salviati & Co.)), while the Gallery’s acquisitions register further lists a glass candelabrum with ‘5 lights, decorated with flowers and leaves … [and] supposed to have come from the International Exhibition’.14National Gallery stockbook, no. D1R, p. 14. 

Glasses comparable in form to this goblet in opalescent glass, with a multitude of applied floral motifs and a distinctive mandala-styled motif attached to the stem, were exhibited by the Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company in several International Exhibitions prior to 1880, and notably at the 1878 Exhibition in Paris – indicating a universal demand for extravagant, tour de force products of the glassmaker’s skill, as well as a tendency on the part of exhibitors to trade on past successes.

Cause for regret though it is, we should note in passing that these early holdings of Venetian glass were seriously depleted in the early 1940s when, together with numerous other ‘unfashionable’ works from the Gallery’s collections, a quantity of the Venetian revivalist glass was sold by public auction. As Eastlake observed elsewhere: ‘[O]ne of the conditions of aesthetic taste seems to be that in civilised life it shall revolve in cycles’; and so it came to pass that the 1940s signified a critical and all-time low in relation to the popularity of flamboyant historicist decorative arts.15It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of works in the art nouveau style fell under the same tastemaking sword of Damocles and were also disposed of by auction. How different was the situation during the second half of the last century. Presentations of modern Venetian glass won great acclaim at successive International Exhibitions, most notably at those held in Paris in 1867 and 1878 and in Vienna in 1873. 

Well in advance of the 1880 exhibition, Venetian glassmakers rallied to calls published in the Murano fortnightly newspaper, La Voce di Murano, for the dispatch of consignments to the ‘Universale Esposizione di Melbourne’. By all accounts, the efforts of those who answered the call were handsomely rewarded. Visitors to the exhibition were entranced by the exquisite and fragile Muranese products. No doubt, readers of La Voce di Murano back in Venice were heartened to learn that ‘the Venetian and Murano [glass] is meeting with universal approval, as we are now starting to realise by the sales’ – an observation that seems to bear out the high hopes of the Venetians that their glass would ‘be accepted with great honours in that faraway place’ and that their participation in the Melbourne exhibition would ‘open new roads in terms of selling [the] products, through which our manufacturers, artists and employees will enjoy a great sense of achievement’ (fig. 5).16‘I vetrei manufatti d’Italia e piu’ particolarmente di Venezia e di Murano all’Esposizione Universale di Melbourne’, La Voce di Murano, 15 December 1880, p. 89. 

So pleased with the Melbourne reaction was the Voce di Murano that it quoted favourable comments in the influential local newspaper the Argus, which had run a feature on the Venetian exhibit, describing it as ‘one of the most remarkable aspects of the exhibition’, and adding that the glass was displayed with ‘great taste’ and that the works appeared ‘so light in structure and in weight they seem to have been formed by a breath of air instead of by the hands of men’.17Argus, Melbourne, cited in ‘I vetrei manufatti d’Italia’, p. 89 (in Italian). Observing also that such a collection was ‘new in this part of the world’, the Argus commented, on a practical note, on the general amazement that ‘such fragile goods have been transported in such good condition from a land so far away’.18ibid. Indeed, the Official Record of the exhibition includes an observation to the effect that the Venetian glass was ‘of so slight a texture and so light of weight that it looked as if it had been composed of a mere transparent film’.19Melbourne International Exhibition, 1880–1881: Official Record Containing Introduction, History of Exhibition, Description of Exhibition and Exhibits, Official Awards of Commissioners, and Catalogue of Exhibits, Melbourne, 1882, p. cxix. 

In the Official Record of the 1880 exhibition, the works acquired by the Gallery are listed in the section dealing with ‘Crystal Glass and Stained Glass’.20ibid., p. 82. Nineteen Italian glass manufacturers are represented by mosaics, looking-glasses, enamel, ‘Spur’ glass, beads and other articles in glass, blown glass and ‘venturina’.21ibid., p. 566. Three of the companies hailed from Florence and exhibited mosaics and looking-glasses, three were from Rome (mosaics), one was from Cremona (articles in glass and crystal), and the remaining twelve were from Venice. As exhibitor number 102, the Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company is listed as showing ‘Ornamental mosaic works, glass candelabras, looking-glasses, modern and antique blown glass, &c’.22ibid., p. 15. 

In summing up the general quality of the exhibits, the jury for both glass and pottery recorded that ‘the exhibits in both classes … were above the standard usually brought to Exhibitions … [and] progress made in both branches since the International Exhibition at Paris, in 1878, was very perceptible’.23ibid., p. 81. Nevertheless, jury members experienced some difficulty, so it seems, in identifying an outright award winner in the ‘Crystal Glass and Stained Glass’ category, taking pains to explain how four firms were equally deserving of the award of first order of merit. The firms were Thomas Webb and Son of Stourbridge (for ‘cut, engraved and other glassware’); Count Harrach of Neuwelt (for ‘ornamental and other glassware of the finest description’); the Société des Glaces de St. Gobain (for ‘mirrors and glass tiles of great beauty, purity, and careful silvering’); and finally, for a ‘splendid collection of Venetian glassware, of very fine designs, beautiful in colours’, the Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company.24ibid., p. 82. To add to the Company’s undoubted joy at this turn of events, the jury also awarded it the prized gold medal for excellence within the presentations of Italian glass. 

The sheer variety of forms within the Venetian displays can be imagined from the official account, which mentions ‘mirrors framed in fragile flowers and leaves, lustres and candelabra, vases, tazze, centre-pieces, beakers, goblets, chalices, and table glass’.25ibid., p. cxix. We read how some pieces were emblazoned with enamel decoration; others were ‘overlaid with lace work’ or ’embossed with curious ornaments’; several showed ‘a thin leaf of gold introduced between two layers of glass’; while others still were ‘sprinkled with turquoise, or agate, or gold’, ‘enamelled in imitation of precious stones’ or ‘of the pagliesco, or colour which belongs specially to Murano’.26ibid. In short, the displays revealed all the flourish and extravagance for which Venetian glass was so admired. 

If the Venetian exhibit sounds like a fairyland of dappled ornament, glinting colour and filmy transparence, this, most likely, is as it appeared. In general, a nineteenth-century Venetian glass goblet or centrepiece is more extravagant in appearance than its antique precursor. It is perhaps more attenuated in profile, and shows slightly more flourish in the treatment of applied ornament. Often of a delicate straw tint, revivalist glass is probably less seeded and reveals fewer irregularities than early specimens. 

Eastlake speaks of the attempts of some English makers to reproduce the most familiar types of old Venetian glass, describing them as having been ‘carried out in the letter rather than in the spirit of ancient work’.27Eastlake, p. 251. It would be fair to say, however, that the converse applies to the Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company, whose glass follows antique prototypes more in the spirit than in the letter. 

In discussing the origins of the Venetian glassmaking revival, Eastlake draws particular attention to the pivotal role played by Antonio Salviati (1816–1890), whose vision, as much as that of anyone, salvaged a ‘national art [that] had degenerated into a trade which produced little more than glass beads and apothecaries’ bottles’.28ibid., p. 252. A lawyer by profession, Salviati was the entrepreneurial force behind the mid-nineteenth-century revival of glassmaking in Venice. His aim was ‘to extend the use [in manufacture] of the [traditional Venetian] style of glass’.29Art Journal, August 1866, p. 257. Eastlake recounts how the master-craftsmen of Murano had been ‘struggling in a state of poverty, for the work on which they had for many years past been employed was of the humblest description, and for this work they received the humblest wages’.30Eastlake, p. 252. We learn how ‘[o]ne of them, an ingenious native artisan first suggested the possibility of reproducing the almost forgotten manufacture of enamel mosaics’ and how, subsequently, ‘aided by this man’s practical experience, Dr Salviati, who himself possessed the zeal and taste of an able connoisseur, undertook a series of experiments, which resulted in the establishment of his well-known factory at Venice’.31ibid., pp. 252–3. Furthermore: 

Encouraged by the advice of some English artist friends, he re-established there a manufactory of table glass, which, in quality of material, excellence of design, and spirit of workmanship, soon promised to rival anything of the kind which had been produced.32ibid., p. 253. 

Happily, one of the most comprehensive arrays of the fruits of Salviati’s endeavour survives in the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria. Fortunately, enough nineteenth-century Venetian glass survived the taste purges of the 1940s to provide for us a reliable impression of the diverse nature of the nineteenth-century Venetian vernacular, and to serve as a useful document of prevailing middle-class taste and patronage in the period. 

Eastlake also makes reference to ‘millefiori [glass], in which slices of rod-glass [appear] embedded in a colourless or differently-coloured ground of the same material’.33ibid., p. 246. No examples of this kind of glass are to be found in the holdings that the Gallery retains today from its 1880 acquisition. The omission of this important and distinctive type has recently been remedied, however, by the purchase of a handsome two-handled millefiori vase, c.1890–1900, of imposing dimensions (fig. 2). As a modern interpretation of an ancient technique, this work represents an imaginative yet practical improvisation that departs somewhat from the original process, which would have involved the fusing in a kiln of a matrix of small, patterned ‘cane’ slices. The resulting sheet would then have been reintroduced to the kiln and ‘collapsed’ or ‘slumped’ over a mould to create its concavity. There would then have followed the refining and polishing of the form on a lathe. In the case of the Melbourne vase, by contrast, the individual murrine, or mosaic elements, were picked up on the partially inflated bubble of glass known as the paraison, before it was inflated to its final form. The lack of distortion or dilation in the stylised floral motifs in this work is particularly impressive and so is the overall palette, which sets concentric circles of red, white and green murrine against a sombre ground. The vase is similar in appearance to a number of vessels by the firm of Fratelli Toso,34For an illustration of similar vessels in a Fratelli Toso catalogue, see R. Barovier Mentasti, Il vetro veneziano: Dal Medioevo al Novecento, Milan, 1982, p. 237. though the Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company also made millefiori glass of this kind. 

Several years after the Gallery’s acquisition from the 1880 International Exhibition, the American painter Charles Ulrich began work on a marvellous impression of the interior of one of Murano’s glasshouses (fig. 6).35See D. B. Burke, A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born between 1846 and 1864, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. III, ed. K. Luhrs, New York, 1980, pp. 316–18. Ulrich had visited Venice during 1885, the year prior to his execution of the painting. The spectacle of the Murano glass furnaces would have appealed strongly to this artist, whose work reveals a clear interest in the documentation of the ancient and time-honoured craft skills that still survived in an era of growing mass-production. 

In Ulrich’s painting, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, we see the operation of a typical glasshouse, similar no doubt to that responsible for the curvilinear elegancies that travelled so boldly to Melbourne in 1880. In the foreground a debonair young maestro sits at a distinctive glassmaker’s chair, across whose elongated arms the craftsman rolls a metal rod supporting a near-complete goblet. To the left, another man puffs into a blowpipe to inflate a vessel. Only a few shafts of sunlight creep into the sooty, roaring interior. We notice also the unexpected presence of two young women, who momentarily distract the young gaffer from his immediate task. Very possibly, a bravura display of glassworking skill is imminent. 

To look at this painting is to be put in mind of the brief account by Ruskin of his visit to Murano. He records the details of the visit in The Stones of Venice and makes these remarks in reference to the revived Venetian glass industry: 

It is morning now: we have a hard day’s work to do at Murano … 

 

To the north, there is first the great cemetery wall, then the long stray buildings of Murano, and the island villages beyond, glittering in intense crystalline vermilion, like so much jewellery scattered on a mirror, their towers poised apparently in the air a little above the horizon … and, to the east, there is a cluster of ships that seem sailing on the land … there is a sense of the great sea being indeed there, and a solemn strength of gleaming light in the sky above. 

 

The most discordant feature in the whole scene is the cloud which hovers above the glass furnaces of Murano; but this we may not regret, as it is one of the last signs left of human exertion among the ruinous villages which surround us.36Ruskin, vol. 2, p. 26.

Supportive of the Venetian glass revival though it is, Ruskin’s observation is melancholy in tone, and this is not a good note on which to conclude. Far better to recall the accolades that greeted the Venetian consignment on its arrival in Melbourne, with one commentator saying of the glorious if idiosyncratic spectacle of the exhibit ‘C’è molto di bizzarro e di fantastico’: ‘There’s so much of the strange and the fantastic’.37‘I vetrei manufatti d’Italia’, p. 90. 

Geoffrey Edwards, Curator of Sculpture and Glass, National Gallery of Victoria (in 1997).

Notes 

1     C. L. Eastlake, Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details (3rd edn, 1872), Westmead, 1971, ch. X. 

2     ibid., p. 258. 

3     It had long been a quest for glassmakers to devise a type of glass that was clear, transparent and free from the discoloration caused by chemical impurities in the ‘batch’ – they sought a kind of artificial equivalent, in effect, for the highly prized natural hardstone known as rock crystal (a type of quartz). Rock crystal was a traditional medium for lapidaries, who carved the substance into elaborate vessels and reliquaries. The term cristallo alludes to the clarity and transparency of Venetian glass relative to other early glass. Even so, much Venetian glass did, in fact, reveal a slight grey or brown tint. 

4     ‘Modern Enamel Mosaics, and the Reproduction of Venetian Glass in the Nineteenth Century’, Art Journal, London, August 1866, P. 257. The author, who is identified by the initials ‘W. C.’, outlines briefly the rise of the original Venetian glass industry, the manufacture of enamel-mosaics, and the glassmaking revival in the second half of the nineteenth century; the efforts of Antonio Salviati with respect to this revival are discussed in some detail. 

5     National Gallery stockbook, 1870s–1880s, Medieval and Renaissance, no. D1R, National Gallery of Victoria, p. 28. 

6     National Gallery stockbook, no. D1R, p. 31. 

7     L. B. Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 to 1968: A Search for a Collection, Melbourne, [1970], p. 12. 

8     J. Ruskin, The Stones of Venice (1853), vol. 2, London, 1907, p. 361: ‘All work in glass is bad which does not, with loud voice, proclaim one or other of these qualities [ductility and transparency]. Consequently, all cut glass is barbarous for the cutting conceals its ductility and confuses it with crystal’. 

9     For a general account of Eastlake’s and Ruskin’s affiliation with the Gallery as advisers to the Commission for the Fine Arts in Victoria, see Cox, pp. 12–18, 31–2. 

10     National Gallery stockbook, no. D1R, p. 13. 

11     National Gallery stockbook, no. D1R, p. 13. 

12     The Endowment was established by William and Margaret Morgan of Melbourne to facilitate the purchase for the National Gallery of Victoria of the comprehensive collection of antique glass assembled in Sydney during the 1950s and 1960s by G. Gordon Russell and offered to the Gallery on generous terms. The Russell collection came to the Gallery in two consignments, in 1968 and 1973. It chiefly comprised British glass of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 

13     John Greene (d. 1703) was a founder and master of the Glass Sellers’ Company in London. There survive today a number of drawings of glasses associated with orders dispatched by Greene, on behalf of the Glass Sellers’ Company, to Alessio Morelli (active 1667–1672), a glassmaker in Venice. The sketches indicate the kinds of glasses that were being imported into Britain in the late seventeenth century. Two works from the Gordon Russell collection – a wine glass of an inverted conical shape and an oil and vinegar cruet – as well as a further wine glass in the Gallery’s collection, correspond to certain outline drawings in the Greene–Morelli correspondence. 

14     National Gallery stockbook, no. D1R, p. 14. 

15     It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of works in the art nouveau style fell under the same tastemaking sword of Damocles and were also disposed of by auction. 

16     ‘I vetrei manufatti d’Italia e piu’ particolarmente di Venezia e di Murano all’Esposizione Universale di Melbourne’, La Voce di Murano, 15 December 1880, p. 89. 

17     Argus, Melbourne, cited in ‘I vetrei manufatti d’Italia’, p. 89 (in Italian). 

18     ibid. 

19     Melbourne International Exhibition, 1880–1881: Official Record Containing Introduction, History of Exhibition, Description of Exhibition and Exhibits, Official Awards of Commissioners, and Catalogue of Exhibits, Melbourne, 1882, p. cxix. 

20     ibid., p. 82. 

21     ibid., p. 566. 

22     ibid., p. 15. 

23     ibid., p. 81. 

24     ibid., p. 82. 

25     ibid., p. cxix. 

26     ibid. 

27     Eastlake, p. 251. 

28     ibid., p. 252. 

29     Art Journal, August 1866, p. 257. 

30     Eastlake, p. 252. 

31     ibid., pp. 252–3. 

32     ibid., p. 253. 

33     ibid., p. 246. 

34     For an illustration of similar vessels in a Fratelli Toso catalogue, see R. Barovier Mentasti, Il vetro veneziano: Dal Medioevo al Novecento, Milan, 1982, p. 237. 

35     See D. B. Burke, A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born between 1846 and 1864, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. III, ed. K. Luhrs, New York, 1980, pp. 316–18. 

36     Ruskin, vol. 2, p. 26. 

37     ‘I vetrei manufatti d’Italia’, p. 90.