16th-Century Cristallo Glass

Unknown Artist, “Wineglass,” c. 1575-1625, Murano, The Corning Museum of Glass (http://collection.cmog.org)

The style of Murano glass during the fifteenth century was one that strove for refinement and clarity. Glass produced with this intention was known as “cristallo.” The invention of the cristallo technique in the fifteenth century is attributed to Angelo Barovier, whose family has been linked to Venetian glassmaking for hundreds of years.[i]  Cristallo glassmaking required an increased skill level to reach the perfection of a crystal clear glass. The technique requires the burning of the barilla plant, a marine plant, to create ash. The use of this ash results in a clear glass that resembles rock crystal.[ii] Once glassmakers created the perfect chemical composition, cristallo glass was blown into elaborate shapes. Designs in cristallo could be complex or simple but always appeared delicate. Some cristallo works were decorated with colored glass, usually of blue, green, and purple hues, while others were gilded and enameled. Themes of glass decoration in the fifteenth century were based on both ancient and medieval motifs. However, it was not unusual for glassmakers to leave elegant cristallo works devoid of any additional decoration.

One example of a highly decorated cristallo piece is entitled the Cristallo Goblet with Enameled and Gilt Decoration, now in the Corning Museum of Glass, dated from the early sixteenth century. The glass features decorative elements that can be attributed to classical themes such as winged putti on ornamented garlands, swirling scrollwork, and crossed shields. It is also gilded on the stem and foot. Subtler works of cristallo glass feature no decoration at all. A Venetian wineglass from the sixteenth century, also in the Corning Museum of Glass, exhibits this concept. The object is pure cristallo glass. It is not colored or gilded at all. Despite the simplicity of the wineglass, it is of a very complex form. Such examples of glassware reflect the fragility and simplicity of clear, crystal glass.

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[i] Pickvet, 59

[ii] Pickvet, 59

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