15 December 2012 till 09 June 2013

Filigree glass

Venetian glass incorporating white and coloured threads

Vaas met deksel
Think of Venice and you probably think not just of gondolas, the San Marco and carnival masks, but also of richly coloured Venetian glass. Prompted by the recent acquisition of two sixteenth-century Venetian glasses to add to the museum’s extensive collection, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is currently devoting a special exhibition to this so-called ‘filigree glass’. Filigree glass – Venetian glass incorporating white and coloured threads is on until 9 June 2013 and uses wonderful historic examples and film material to explain this intriguing decorative technique.

Filigree glass is the term used to describe glass with white threads incorporated into a clear body. The technique was introduced in 1527 by Venetian glass-blowers on Murano. The threads may be straight or spiralling, or a combination of the two. Right through into the eighteenth century, Murano glass-blowers continued to produce filigree glass of unparalleled excellence. Their work was traded at high prices throughout Europe and the collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag includes a number of wonderful examples from that period. Inspired by examples from the past, glass-blowers revived the technique in the mid-nineteenth century, when they started to use coloured threads as well as white ones. In the second half of the twentieth century, there was another resurgence of the technique. 

The production of filigree glass involves a highly sophisticated technique. The exhibition includes a film demonstrating it. The process can be resumed as follows. First of all, thin canes of opaque white glass are produced. Several of these are then used together to make spiralling threads. A wide variety of twists is possible. Only then can the glass-blower begin to make the object itself by combining many different canes. The Venetian glass-blowers are masters of the difficult technique of blowing and forming glass so that the twists flatten out and the threads seem almost to touch each other. The resulting objects are masterpieces of the glassmaker

The most difficult of the filigree glass techniques is known as vetro a reticello (literally, glass with a small network). This is practiced only in Venice. It involves taking two layers of glass containing threads twisting in opposite directions and fusing them together at right angles. Because both layers of glass are slightly ribbed as a result of the incorporation of the threads, small bubbles of air become ‘trapped’ between them when they are fused together. The exhibition includes several virtuoso examples of this technique.

One area of the exhibition is devoted to items from the Van der Lee collection recently given to the Gemeentemuseum on long-term loan. Jaap and Joanna van der Lee-Boers have been passionate glass collectors ever since 1956. Jaap van der Lee has made a bequest leaving the collection to the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag after his death and has also established a named fund, administered by the Rembrandt Association. This fund can be used to acquire rare pieces of glass for public collections in the Netherlands and, more especially, for the collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. The Gemeentemuseum has already made grateful use of it on a number of occasions, acquiring both centuries-old Venetian glasses and pieces of modern and contemporary glass. The Van der Lee collection includes fine examples of engraved English, German and Dutch glass. The high point in this respect is a seventeenth-century piece engraved with a scene from the ‘Battle of Leckerbeetje