Venice: A Glass of Its Own

Micheal James O'Brien

Even before the Venetian Republic ordered all glassblowers to the island of Murano in 1291 to avoid the risk of fire on the mainland, the city was famous for its sublime glass. The tradition endured for centuries, taking a modern turn in the twenties, when Venini radicalized the industry by hiring avant-garde artists to reinterpret what glass could be. In the past two decades a new generation has revived that cutting-edge spirit. With experimental shapes and techniques and a love of the medium’s sensuous beauty, these artists are pushing their craft boldly into the 21st century—while preserving Venice’s great glass heritage.

Luigi Benzoni and Giberto Arrivabene with his wife, Bianca Benzoni has been pushing the boundaries of his art for 20 years, fusing molten and solid glass to create stunning pieces such as Il Vaso a Bolle, or Bubble vase (top right, $4,850). Arrivabene started making glass when he realized that he could no longer find the elegant sets traditionally used by the Italian aristocracy—he is from one of Venice’s oldest families, and his wife’s maiden name was HRH Princess Bianca di Savoia Aosta. His platinum-rimmed tumblers and wine decanter (bottom left, $70–$690) can be personalized with a family crest or monogram.

Carlo Moretti and Marie Brandolini Born into a glassmaking family, Moretti broke from the brightly hued, frilly forms common in the seventies by creating clean, experimental shapes. His I Piccoli vases (top right, $280 apiece), with their uneven openings and simple bands of color, bring an artistic edge to functional glassware. Brandolini, whose husband is Count Brandino Brandolini d’Adda, earned the nickname the Glassmaking Countess while training with the Murano masters in the early nineties. Her I Gotti tumblers (bottom left, $70–$80) are inset with playful multicolored murrines in the form of stars and flowers.

Giordana Naccaria grande dame in the world of glass, Naccari comes from a renowned Murano family. Her small Venice shop, l’Angolo del Passato, is a reference point for the entire field, offering a selection of past, present, and future classics. She also produces her own beautiful blown tumblers in riotous hues (above, $55 each) and is in the process of setting up a small glass museum near Piazza San Marco.

Laura de Santillana Santillana’s pedigree is peerless: Her grandfather was the founder of Venini and her brother Alessandro is a noted glass artist as well. Using a technique that involves flattening a heated sphere of blown glass with a wooden paddle, she produces extremely heavy "tablets,"such as Flag (here, $20,800), featuring bands of luminous color that call to mind the paintings of Mark Rothko.