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A Salviati Aventurine Centerpiece

Salviati Murano Venetian glass centrepiece with dolphins, Aventurine, circa 1880
Antonio Salviati 1816-90

This flamboyant piece of glass is – believe it or not – Italian! Actually a stunning example of an interesting period in the development of the ‘Murano Glass’ we are familiar with, it dates to the later 19th century years when the revival of the Italian artworks was just beginning. It comes from the workshop of Antonio Salviati (1816-1890), who paired up with an English archaeologist, Sir Austen H. Layard, M.P. (1817-94).

Layard is an interesting character. While considered ‘English’ (sitting in British Government 1852-69), he was raised in Italy, buying a palazzo and living there – but is best known for his travels through Persia in the 1840’s, which resulted in identification and the first excavations in Nineveh, Nimrud, and Babylon. His discoveries form the greater part of the collection in the British Museum. While he was in Venice, he collected early glass and artworks, and came to befriend Salviati – after which they formed a company with one ambition, to revive the golden-days of Venetian glasswork.

ints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details- Charles Locke Eastlake 1868 - Murano Salviati Glass
Illustration depicting ‘Modern Glass’, 1868 book by Charles Lock Eastlake, 1868 -‘Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details’- Charles Locke Eastlake 1868 – Murano Salviati Glass’

The result of this partnership was remarkable. Venetian glass making had stagnated, but they were able to kick-start it again in the later 19th century. They did this by looking backwards to the magnificent original Venetian creations of the 16th and 17th centuries – but as many of the techniques had not been used for generations, they found themselves re-inventing the sometimes very complex recipes from scratch.

Copper Aventurine glass from the Salviati workshop, Venice, later 19th century

This centerpiece is ‘Aventurine’, designed to simulate the semiprecious stone by the same name. It was developed in Venice, with legend of glass-making monks accidentally putting copper shavings into molten glass; however, an early 17th century date is now considered the first production of this glass type.
It involves a mixture of copper, iron, and tin oxides, introduced into the glass mixture, which is then fired in a reducing low-oxygen kiln, causing them to form compact crystalline clumps which reflect the light in their unique manner.  The new glass structure with the glitter effect is not stable and would deteriorate rapidly in the air, but a method of enclosing it in a layer of clear glass ensures it is preserved.

This large piece was sourced in Melbourne, and may have been here all of its life. The National Gallery of Victoria has a magnificent collection of Venetian 19th century glass, acquired in its early years, with a group of ‘modern’ glass selected for them by Antonio Salviati himself in 1874. When Melbourne hosted the massive 1880-1 International Exhibition, there was a splendid display of Murano glass, with many pieces ending up in the Gallery’s collection where they remain to this day. The Italian glass was highly popular with the Victorians- it was noted for its ‘ethereality’, and ‘might as well be called gossamer glass’ ! It was of course all products of Salviati’s company, the ‘Compagnia Venezia-Murano‘, and it won the highest prize, a gold medal indicating the First Order of Merit.

German/Austrian glass appears in this 1880 International Exhibition photo in the background, while the cuttings from the reports of the time describe the Italian glass display, and their ‘recent revival’. Speaking in general of the exhibits, the special correspondent states “It is to be hoped they will all remain in Australia to guide and emulate our young glass-workers”.
1880 Melbourne InternationalExhibition-Ceramics+Glass
A general view across part of the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition, showing masses of Ceramics+Glass – mostly British in this view. No photo of the Italian Glass has been found – yet.
First prize, Gold Medal awarded to ‘Compagnia Venezia-Murano

After the exhibition closed in 1881, 130 pieces were purchased for the Gallery. At the same time, the impressive wealth in Melbourne meant the top-end department stores were also offering these luxury products for sale.

Moorabool is very pleased to offer this remarkable large & early piece of Venetian Glass.

Not Melbourne, but the 1881 display in Milan’s ‘Exposition’ where Salviati once again took out top-prize for their glass. The background is an example of the mosaics they were producing.

In the Met Museum NY is this design for a similar centrepiece, note the gold inclusions. From a book of designs from Salviati’s “Compagnia Venezia-Murano”, dating to 1870’s-80’s.

Some more interesting connections, including designs from a design book at the Met Museum, New York.

In the Met Museum NY is this design for a similar bottle, note the two options: ‘for water’ (no stopper?) and ‘for wine’. From a book of designs from Salviati’s “Compagnia Venezia-Murano”, dating to 1870’s-80’s.
An early Salviati glass flask, in the Rosenberg Collection, Geelong
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