Some Lalique glass at the Gulbenkian in Lisbon

Having established his reputation as a daring designer of jewelry — one often using innovative glass effects alongside gems — Lalique devoted himself to mass production of cheap collectible glass. One suspects one reason for this was the economics of design: even today great brands make more money in $15 T-shirts (where the volume is) than they make in haute-coulture dresses at $5,000 a pop (where there ain’t). But one also suspects Lalique liked to work in glass more than he liked to work in jewels. These — at the Gulbenkian — are extraordinary; and my favorite is the one at the top.

And then God created William Morris

William Morris, b. 1957
Engraved Impala Situla
, 2000, glass, free-blown, wheel-engraved and tooled

“Morris’ technical skills are legendary. His subjects reflect an interest in other civilizations’ representations of the natural world”, says the curator. “Here, a life-like impala becomes a situla, a vessel for the drawing of water”. V&A curator further notes patterns “resemble African textiles”. To me the more significant seem the surfaces which imitate natural textures: fur, flesh, horn. Even if some of the horn, truth be told, feels more like turtle-shell.

The damn thing is good 3 feet tall.

Bloody American, too.  Unbelievable.

PS.  The images on his website are small (even if the prices aren’t).


Zanfirico is a Venetian technique, as virtuosic as any Baroque Venetian aria: one first makes a rod of clear glass; then lays upon it lengthwise a stripe of color glass; then one twists the rod so as to make a straight clear rod with the color stripe spiraling up its length; then one joins several such rods to make a sheet; then one closes that sheet into a cylinder; then one blows the cylinder into a desired shape. All of this while keeping the glass hot enough to be pliable but not so hot as to melt it altogether. The mastery of craft required to execute a zanfirico is — well — Roberta Peters-like.

On my first visit in Venice, I found a small zanfirico jar — it was one of three in the only shop in the whole city which had them; I bought all and asked for more; the shop could not find more; when I returned the following year they said they didn’t think they’d find one: the only artist they knew who could make zanfiricos was too busy doing other stuff. (Don’t ask).

Here are several zanfiricos from the V&A and Wallace collections. About the first one (V&A) — the difficult shape of “nipples” on the belly of the jar was achieved by glowing the glass into a form — its owner must have felt that it wasn’t sufficiently ornate and decided that adding some metal mounts would improve the impression (not to mention challenge his jeweler who’d been acting uppity lately).

Do view these in full size: it’s the only way to see the detail of the patterns in the glass.

Victoria and Albert: Clever Czech

Bochemian, 19th century.

What a clever piece of work: a cup decorated with cut-glass medallions (the way silversmiths sometimes decorated silver cups with coins); but every third medallion is a lens in which the medallions on the other side of the cup are reflected.

Victoria and Albert: Tagliapietra

Bilbao, 2001, by Lino Tagliapietra (b. Murano, 1934). “Textbook example of his masterly skills. Combining bands of patterned and perfectly cut glass with clear lenses, he allows the moving observer a constantly shifting three dimensional view”. See his website here for other examples of his work, though, sadly, none as lavishly photographed as here. The damn thing is huge, too: about 5 feet tall and two feet across — the size alone must present phenomenal handling challenges. I could not get my eyes off the thing — it’s hypnotising — even though I actually do not like the overall appearance of it: when I step back and take the whole thing in, it makes me feel uncomfortable; a man-eating extra-terrestrial mollusc, it seems somehow repulsive and threatening. But up close, it dazzles the eye.