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Venetian glass displayed for first time since 1906 earthquake

In a week's time the Cantor Center for Visual Arts will be transformed into a Xanadu of glass.

Salviati at Stanford: Venetian Glass of the 1890s, curated by Carol Osborne, will feature roughly half of the center's 245 surreally exquisite glassware pieces donated by the legendary firm of Salviati & Co. All but a few have been under wraps since the 1906 earthquake.

Also on view will be Contemporary Reflections of Venetian Glass, 10 works -- consisting of close to 20 individual pieces -- by modern masters such as Lino Tagliapietra, Dale Chihuly, Jane Cowie, Fritz Dreisbach and Richard Marquis. The exhibit is organized by Patrick Maveety, curator emeritus of Asian art at the center.

For sheer aesthetic bliss, these shows, which run from Sept. 18 through Dec. 29, are not to be missed. As always, admission to the Cantor Center is free and open to the public.

Sheldon Barr, an internationally recognized author, dealer and consultant in 19th-century glass, is scheduled to give a lecture, "The 19th-Century Venetian Glass Renaissance," at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, in the Cantor Center auditorium. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited.

In addition, a 30-minute video is on view with Contemporary Reflections. Produced by the Corning Museum of Glass, the video features a demonstration of Venetian glassblowing processes.


Stanfords in Venice

In 1883, Leland and Jane Stanford visited a glass factory on the Grand Canal in Venice with Leland Jr., just months before the boy's death. There they met Maurizio Camerino, a young assistant at a glass and mosaic firm established by Antonio Salviati.

In her richly detailed essay in the exhibition catalog, Osborne, former chief curator of the Stanford Museum of Art, asserts that the Stanfords' relationship with Camerino deepened after he rushed to Florence immediately after Leland Jr.'s death to offer his assistance to the grieving couple.

In 1900, Jane Stanford chose the Salviati firm to provide the extensive mosaic work for Memorial Church. Thanks largely to her business, Camerino was able to buy into the firm in 1903, partnering with Silvio Salviati, Antonio's surviving son.

Called Erede Dr. A. Salviati & Co., the firm donated 200 of its showpiece jugs, jars, bottles, bowls, vases and goblets to the university's museum in 1903. A second shipment of 80 glass vessels arrived at the museum in 1904. However, the 1906 earthquake destroyed many of the pieces and badly damaged the church's mosaic.

Some eight years later, Camerino returned to Stanford with a team of mosaicists to repair the damage. He also presented the university with a large gift of glassware to replace the pieces that had broken in 1906.


Glass B.C.

Glass has been made since at least the third millennium B.C. The Romans were the first to develop glassblowing, around 50 B.C. But it was in Venice -- specifically, the small island of Murano -- where the craft truly developed, flourishing throughout the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries before going into a decline in the 18th century. Antonio Salviati, aided by his good art instincts, marketing skills and public-relations savvy, was largely responsible for the revitalization of Venetian glassblowing.

The pieces in the Cantor Center's collection represent a vaguely historical trajectory, "from the ancient world to the modern -- exactly as one would expect from production conceived in the heyday of historicism," Osborne writes.

The intricately varied glasswork styles and techniques have names as curvaceous and delicate as the pieces themselves: mezza stampatura, fenicio, vetro a reticello, pagliesco, zanfirico, girasol. In the way that they combine slight asymmetry with vibrant color, many pieces look as though they would be at home in a Matisse painting. It is a tasteful artifice -- ornate but not gaudy, as only the Italians know how.

The exhibition catalog, which includes beautiful color photographs of the Cantor Center's entire Salviati & Co. glassware holdings, is available at the center's bookshop ($39.95 hardback; $24.95 paperback). The exhibition and catalog are made possible by generous support from two anonymous donors and a grant from the Passan Foundation.


By John Sanford

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