Murano’s history is made by hundreds of talented and ingenious glass masters. Many of them attained prominence centuries ago, while others are still stunning the world with dazzling creations. Others have collaborated together to evolve the glass-making industry and bring it global fame, which it is still enjoying today. Each and every one of them, however, has contributed invaluably to Murano’s history and beauty, surprising admirers and collectors with new ideas, artistic boldness, and alluring designs. Such is the case of the Barbini family, who has been an important presence in Murano’s history since ages ago, and is still present in today’s picture.
The Barbini family goes back a long way. Their story in the Murano Glass industry can be traced back to the XVI century, when the family name was added to Venice’s Golden Book, a book known for containing the crème de la crème of Venetian noble families and the best glass masters, whose guild received special permission to be in the Book. Members of the Barbini family played active roles in Venice’s history for a long time, be it in politics, commerce, or different areas of glass production. Many of them became famous thanks to their beautiful Venetian mirrors, others thanks to their enamel glass, others still for making majestic chandeliers. Some members of the Barbini family even moved to abroad in order to create decorative glass exclusively for royal houses and the wealthiest foreign families. During the following centuries the Barbini family started counseling other glass masters, such as Pietro Bigaglia, the Briati family, the Bertolini brothers and Benetto Barbaria. All of them in turn went on to make significant contributions to Murano’s glass-blowing innovations and history.
Alfredo Barbini’s story, however, starts many centuries later. Born in 1912 in Murano, he quickly became known as a very skillful glass master. Beginning his career with one of Murano’s most famous furnaces, Alfredo started working at Ferro Toso’s factory at the tender age of 13. After 17 years of working for Toso, he left the furnace and joined the Cristalleria di Venezia e Murano to become its principal master glassblower. During that time, he showed an incredibletalent in designing and crafting bold and beautiful glass pieces. In 1932, he joined Zecchin & Martinuzzi, a furnace that allowed his creativity to blossom and where he created his most impressive designs over the next three years. This last furnace provided him with more artistic liberties than the previous ones, that focused much more on the technical aspects of glass craftsmanship. Unfortunately, Zecchin & Martinuzzi eventually closed, and Barbini moved on to work for Seguso Vetri d’Arte for a short period, ending up later on at Vetreria Artistica Muranese Società Anonima until 1944.
After World War II Barbini went back to working with Seguso and Martinuzzi independently, gaining more and more recognition as the famous master glassblower and designer. His strong aesthetics and vivid imagination allowed him to mold his designs to satisfy the preferences of his colleagues and patrons with no problem at all. His experience expanded even more after working for two other great masters, Luigi Scarpa Croce and Salviati. By 1946, he had become artistic director and business associate of Gino Cenedese & C. During this time he broadened his mastery in glass sculptures and different chromatic effects such as the “vetro fumato” or smoky glass. In 1948, during Venice’s Biennale and under Cenedese company name, he presented an incredible collection of decorative art glass in “corroso” style mimicking corroded surface effects.
In 1950 with Salviati’s economic help, Alfredo Barbini managed to open his own firm, Vetreria Alfredo Barbini. From this year on and until 1961, Barbini was an important presence in many Venice Biennale art exhibitions. His interest turned to ore essential and minimal forms, such as the instantly-famous fish and tulip artworks he submitted for the Venice Biennale in 1960. In later years, his works were also characterized by a series of small and fine incisions engraved on the surface of each glass object, decorating the surface of delicate vases and other art glass pieces.
One of the techniques he perfected and specialized in throughout the years was the Massello technique. This technique is based on stretching hot glass and molding it into a certain shape, allowing the piece to take any form without having to use a glass blowing technique. Another signature style of his was the Sommerso technique. He perfected the way in which thick colored layers of glass were superimposed over each other, fusing each layer so brilliantly that the joining lines seemed non-existent; they were seamlessly turning into each other creating brilliant reflections and amazing color combinations.
Another one of his favorite techniques was the Corrosione, in which the outer layer of the glass object was covered in gold powder or any other metal, and obtained corroded appearance once it came in contact with heat. Every single piece made by Alfredo Barbini himself is recognizable thanks to the “A.Barbini” signature impressed on it, while works made by his workshop are signed as only “Barbini”.
If Barbini’s artworks were admired, his workshop was worthy of the same admiration. Constructed during the mid 1960’s, Barbini’s furnace itself was a piece of art resembling a gothic cathedral more than a glass factory, lit through stained glass windows contrasting strong colors with light reflections. In time Alfredo introduced his son Flavio and his daughter Oceania to the art of glass-making, leaving his whole legacy to them. Barbini died on February 13th 2007, leaving Murano and the whole world a rich heritage of knowledge and mastery in glass making and helping turn an old craft into modern art.