The most difficult lesson of any art history student or would-be contemporary artist is that before one can evolve or revolutionize an artform, one must first become a master of that art. The Murano Glass Masters Franco and Mauro Panizzi are a pair of such rare artists who have surpassed the level of mastery of their craft and have indeed gone on to revolutionize designs, styles and forms of Murano glass.
While you may not have heard their names, it is highly likely that you have seen some of Mauro and Franco's work. The Panizzi brothers are in some ways a special secret, secreted away deep inside of the secret world of Murano glass, where they are called upon by everyone from independent designers, to famous glass factories, to internationally renowned fashion houses to carve, shape and perfect glass objects. (Mauro and Franco's clients have included the furnaces AV Mazzega, Venini, Carlo Moretti, Nason Moretti, Seguso, and Salviati as well as the artists Cristiano Bianchin, Maria Grazia Rosin, Diego Lazzarini, Giorgio Vigna, Yasuiko Tsuchida.) Masters of molatura, battitura, incisioni and fusione, Franco and Mauro are the men who add texture to many of the most sought after and luxurious works of Murano Glass. But, make no mistake, Maestri Franco and Mauro are not only highly skilled artisans, they are artists. In their workshop, in the collection designed and created by them, a contemporary style of Murano Glass working and design has emerged.
Brothers Franco and Mauro own the moleria, a “cold working” glass studio, of Panizzi Eugenio SNC. The studio was originally opened on Murano by their uncle, Marco Varisco, and eventually taken over by their father, Eugenio Panizzi. Both men were masters at carving and engraving glass whose work, focused primarily on engravings of crystal glasswares in the Bohemian style. (“Bohemian” is the expression, still widely used, to describe the style of cut, engraved or facetted crystal that was originally popularized by the glass masters of Bohemia.) Eugenio was widely respected for his mastery at carving intricate crystal objects, an artistic skill that he passed on to his two sons Mauro and Franco.
Inside their shop on Murano, Franco and Mauro have placed several photos, as well as remarkable glass works created by their father Eugenio.
When they took over the workshop, Mauro and Franco not only continued the tradition of intricate carving and grinding, but also expanded their skills and offerings to include the “battitura” - a deep carving and texturing of Murano Glass – sandblasting, and fusion of Murano Glass. Today, their skills are in extremely high demand by other factories and even designer labels. However, it is in their own innovative collection of Murano glass works that really shows what they can be done when exceptional skill is combined with unrestrained creativity.
What do you think "Murrine" or "Millefiore" Murano Glass looks like? Franco and Mauro's work will make you look again.
Fusion, in contemporary English, is a word used to describe just about anything that combines various culture and traditions to create something new. We regularly hear it used in relation to food and fashion. Fusion is also the perfect word to describe the original collection of works of Murano Glass created by Maestri Mauro and Franco Panizzi. Not only do they literally fuse pieces of Murano Glass together – a historic technique as old as mosaic work - but also because the unique designs they have created combine many of the most famous types of Murano glass – they make ample use of Murano's famous Murrine glass – and, the resulting pieces themselves - including Murano glass magic carpets, tribal masks and chopstick holders - clearly embrace cross-cultural artistic traditions and imagination.
Maestri Franco and Mauro were kind enough to let me visit their studio and observe their work on several occasions. There, despite the riotously bright colors of their finished work, I found myself submerged in an exceptionally calm and focused environment. As the fusion furnace worked it's slow magic of melting canes of glass into their desired patterns, each of the brothers was calmly engaged in making delicate incisions, smoothing edges, or grinding deep texture into glass. Of course, their work is best suited to people with focused eyes and steady hands! The only complaint I ever heard from either of them is that their hands sometimes get cold...
Franco and Mauro achieve different depths and textures of carvings, and texture entire pieces of Murano Glass, at machines fitted with various sizes of wheels made of various materials of different densities.
Molatura, battitura and incisioni are all techniques for adding texture to glass. These types of glass work are referred to as "cold working". It's cold not only because the glass is worked at room-temperature rather than heated, but also because there is a constant stream of water running over the wheel used to carve the glass. (I image the water is very important both in helping the maestri see the results of each cut clearly and also for washing away tiny shards of glass which could otherwise be dangerous.)
Just as experts in any field can disagree very much on the appropriate use of industry terminology, the maestri never did agree, though we discussed it extensively, to give me precise definitions of each type of glass carving. Is an incision any cut in the glass? Or is it a delicate, shallow cut, made vertically or horizontally on the piece? It seems that, at any point in the process of carving or texturing glass, the definition is different and it has to do with both how many different textures of wheel are used to work the glass and what texture is achieved in the end. Battitura, for example, is achieved using a rougher-wheel that leaves a depth of texture and matte look on the glass, whereas in mulatura a smooth and shiny texture is achieved by working the piece with wheels of increasing softer textures and materials.
Fusion of Murano glass is achieved by organizing and layering pieces of glass together, and then placing them in a furnace in which the glass is then melted together at an extremely high temperature. Franco and Mauro brought such a furnace to their studio in 1994 and have since developed exceptional styles and designs of fused pieces and are expert at creating deeply layered designs in glass works through fusion.
I observed much of the creation of one of the Panizzi's fused and carved Murano glass platters. Here, small slices of canes of colored Murano glass and murrine glass were cut and organized into a circular pattern and placed into the furnace. The resulting fused piece was breathtaking in itself; It was amazing how the ends of the murrine - in this case a rosette pattern murrine - showed through in 3-dimensional clarity. But, this piece is a Panizzi and texture matters here. Franco Panizzi set immediately to work carving it in a design that made it both brighter and more elegant and showed even more of the character of the murrine inside. The fused pieces in Franco and Mauro's collection include not only these platters, but also murrine paperweights, sculptures of magic carpets, wall hangings, glasses, jewelry and vases. These are just a couple more examples:
Seeing such a diversity of design and style in the collection created by the two brothers, I couldn't resist asking them which were their favorites. Mauro immediately directly my attention to geometric-designed wall hanging, whereas there was no single favorite for Franco, who went around the showroom pointing out a half-dozen pieces he'd be glad to take home. These are favorite pieces selected by each of the maestri:
Personally, I found almost too much to admire in the Panizzi collection - fine details, dramatic colors, a huge a range of textures - but when it comes to choosing favorites, they must be their stunning fused, carved, blown at a furnace, and then, of course, engraved glasses. Each of these pieces is as light as a feather and has a lovely texture that feels almost like sea glass. Meanwhile, here again maestri Franco and Mauro have used Murano's classic murrine glass to achieve a totally new design and, while they were at it, they also made whimsical delicate carvings on the pieces as well. Each of these strikes me as a small masterpiece of contemporary Murano glass:
During my most recent visit to the Panizzi's workshop, a pair of young travelers happened bye and decided to come inside to ask about shopping for authentic Murano glass. The Marchio del Vetro Atristico Murano, the official Murano glass trademark is used by the Panizzi brothers as one form of guarantee. "Another form of guarantee," We told the boys, "is too look for shops like the one you're in now, where the items are unique from each other and from the items in other shops. If you have arrived at the shop of Panizzi, you're doing very well!"
Don't be shy about visiting Mauro and Franco during your trip to Murano. They are located at #29 Calle delle Conterie, near the glass museam and the famous church of Santi Maria e Donato. In their small shop you'll discover original and unique works of Murano glass - pieces are available in all price ranges - the likes of which you will not see anywhere else in Venice. Meanwhile, as the shop and workshop are connected, you may have a chance to see them working yourself. Here's how to find Panizzi Murano:
OG Venice would like to thank Franco and Mauro for their patience with our interruptions of their work, but mostly for their beautiful work itself. Their collection gives all of us a chance to appreciate not only mastery at Murano glass working techniques, but also the use of those techniques in the creation of completely original - beautiful - works of Murano glass arts.
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