Fantastical Aquariums

A Sea of Glass
There’s certainly a thread here between my recent piece on Essex Crystal and this short story. The Cenedese glass studio, with a unique aesthetic and technique, created their own versions of water worlds like no other; different to the ones that Essex examples captured.

While my very first encounter with Venetian glass was in the James Bond movie, Moonraker, my first tactile experience with Italian glass was selling all manner of 1950s – ’70s pieces for tiny sums at Leonard Joel many years ago and mostly to a quiet giant of a man known in the trade by the name “Puss”. I was lucky enough to view his collection once and his futuristic buying resulted in the sale of one of the great glass collections. Puss saw, during the 80s, what few other collectors did.

Not long after, I saw my first Cenedese aquarium “brick”. I choose to call them bricks because it describes best the sheer heaviness and presence of these quirky works of art. In essence, this famous glass studio, with artisans such as Barbini, fused two thick flat, and to a degree, organically shaped, pieces of glass and sandwiched within this glass you will find caricatured and naturalistic fish, sea creatures, delicate reefs of seaweed, and even bubbles! Kitsch, splendid, bold, and nostalgic are words that come to my mind to describe these pieces of art glass.

I have watched so many sell, but only recently did I successfully bid on a Cenedese lamp base (electrification and a shade will be part two to this acquisition). The pieces are very accessible and can vary from $1,000 to as much as $10,000 for very complex and well-balanced scapes.

Examples are at their most entrancing when they are lit from the base in spaces with low light and the effect is just as it was intended, to create the impression of an aquarium’s moment in time. I could stare at them forever.

I’m embarrassed to say that the only time I was in Venice I didn’t think to visit the cluster of islands known as Murano that, through a quirk of history, became the refuge and region for the great glass makers of Italy, including Cenedese, but I’m not shy to suggest that their collectability has a long way to go.

By John Albrecht, Chairman & Head of Important Collections

Top Image: Alfredo Barbini for Cenedese Murano Glass Aquarium

April 2024