Sunday, 7 October 2012


 The important thing to know about the Murano glass-makers is that almost everything they make is, at least to my taste, perfectly hideous - Jan Morris.

I'm kind of with Jan on this. Well, up to a point. They do make some quite funky jewellery these days. And given that they've supplied Caroline with regular birthday and Christmas presents over the past few years, I'd do well not to speak too harshly of them. But "classic" Murano glass - those great, swirling rococo chandeliers of candy-coloured glass? Oh yes, I can see it's fantastically clever but I have to confess the main reaction it inspires in me is a kind of "Yechhhh...".

Anyway, we'll come back to glass in a moment. The Palazzo Franchetti is an almost impossibly pretty building in Campo Santo Stefano that overlooks the Grand Canal. It always seems to be hosting some event or other but, at the same time, there's always a charge for entrance, so we've put off having a look around, until now. Because, at the moment, it's hosting an exhibition called Nine Rooms, by the Swedish glassmaker Bertil Vallien. It's a high-profile event - images from the exhibition are posted all over town, including the vaporetti - but it's gone rather over our heads. Until Caroline reads that there's a free guided tour of the exhibition on a Sunday morning as part of the European Day of Patrimony (an event which has already led us to, shall we say, a rather challenging evening of Latin poetry at the Palazzo Grimani), and we think well, the glass might be a bit dull but it's a chance for a free look round the palazzo.

And how wrong can you be? Because all our impressions of the palazzo itself are completely blown away by the glasswork. Quite simply, it's the best exhibition of contemporary art we've seen since we arrived. It is a stunningly beautiful body of work.


The Sleeping Girl



Vallien's work contrasts with the traditional Murano chandeliers hanging in the palazzo, which (to our eyes at least) look fussy and frivolous in comparison. But maybe that's unfair. They're extraordinarily complex pieces of work in their own right. It's not their fault that tastes have changed. And Vallien himself recently spent time in Murano learning some of the techniques of the glassworkers there. 

The pictures don't do it justice, but I found it the most persuasive argument I've seen for glasswork as art as opposed to decoration. The exhibition is on until the 25th November. If you're in Venice during that period, do try and see it.


  1. Did they get jumpy when you took photos? We were there for the Picasso exhibit and they were adamant about "no photos".

    I wish I could see this in person!

    1. They seemed fine with the photographs (and a number of people were taking them so it can't be that they just didn't notice) - maybe the ban during the Picasso exhibit was a requirement of the exhibition, rather than of Palazzo Franchetti?


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