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The Venetian Influence: 1960's Empoli Transparent and Optic Pattern Glass

at Michele Varian, 27 Howard Street, New York
October 2016 - March 2017

In 1927 a Boston-based importer discovered the Tuscan glassmaking town of Empoli. At the time, Empoli was known for its rustic utilitarian glasswares. The importer quickly saw oportunity in the inexpensive, moderately skilled labor. He set out to raise the skillset by hiring Venetian maestros to train Empoli glass blowers so that they too could produce Venetian style glass – but less expensively. The experiment was an explicit failure and yet the influence of the Venetian style can be found, to varying degrees, throughout the succeeding decades of Empoli’s newly spawned artistic glass industry.

Empoli’s original style was variously known as ‘Verde’ or ‘Pesanti’, in reference to the unrefined green glass and to its weight respectively. The Empoli style could be more perfectly antithetical to the Venetian. And yet, in the early 1930’s, Venetian forms were loosely interpreted in this glass - from the classical Veronese vase to elaborate filigreed forms. A resurgent interest in Venetian style is particularly evident during Empoli’s last productive period in the 1960’s. No doubt this influence grew from Empoli’s desire to appeal to a broader international market and their awareness of the international success of Murano glasshouses at this time.

The series presented here is defined by the use of thin-walled and delicately colored glass. While there is no mistaking it for Venetian given its grander scale, simplified forms and lack of detail, it clearly evokes the spirit of Murano in its delicacy and elegance. Produced in greater quantities than other Empoli styles, it should come as no surprise that this glass dominated the American market for affordable decorative glass in the 1960’s and 70’s. Barely a single issue of House & Garden or House Beautiful was published without Empoli glass in this period. Presented here is a collection of two hundred examples in a range of forms, colors and techniques.

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