For the Venetian glass industry, the 18th century began as brilliantly as it ended dismally: it was a period of great highs and lows. In order to convey the gravity of the issues faced, I should mention that scholars of this subject, who are themselves Venetian, invariably refer to this time (and the early 19th century) as the period of crisis.
Without equivocation, however, it can be said that the best examples of glass from the first decade of the 1700s are unmatched in glassmaking history for their combination of aesthetic exuberance, technical challenge, and excellence of craftsmanship (Fig. 31).
In addition to the exceedingly complex structures that were permitted by the use of glue bits to join prefabricated parts, the late 17th and early 18th centuries were noteworthy for what was truly the golden age of reticello. Reticello is the most time-consuming and difficult of all of the varieties of filigrana decoration. This process involves creating a double layer of twisted canes, one spiraling clockwise and the other counterclockwise.
At the intersection of every pair of canes is a void that becomes a bubble, and there are hundreds of such bubbles in the wall of a single vessel. If the glass is reheated to a sufficiently high temperature for a long enough time, surface tension will cause these bubbles to become spherical. This seems to have been carefully avoided in the reticello process of this period. The bubbles are never round; instead, they are rectangular, pillow-shaped, with pointed corners. This indicates that, after creating the reticello matrix, the glassblower heated the glass only minimally during the fabrication of the object.
Reticello Lidded Bottle is an object whose walls consist exclusively of a reticello matrix. In the video of this object, the matrix is divided into two sections. The larger portion will be used for the vessel, and the smaller portion will become the lid and its tiny finial. For a goblet (Fig. 32), the matrix could be divided into three or more sections, as needed.
The Reticello Platter has a thin layer of colorless glass on its upper surface. This was created with the sbruffo process. It can be seen taking place about five minutes into the accompanying video. (For more information of sbruffo, see About 1550)
Few new glassblowing processes were introduced by Venetian glassworkers following the first decade of the 18th century. The product lines seem to have broadened in scope, however. Elaborate polychrome chandeliers of often huge dimensions were made (notably by Giuseppe Briati),14 and they were extremely popular. Mirrors, complex centerpieces, reliquaries, devotional altars, and decorative furniture inlays were also produced. However, throughout the second half of the century, the quality of the workmanship of drinking vessels seems to have declined as the designs became simpler, reflecting changing tastes.
A curious reprise, of sorts, occurred in the mid-18th century. The Venetians again began to make imitation porcelain, which had been an important part of their production at the very start of the golden age (Fig. 33). The Miotti glasshouse (Fig. 34) turned out high-quality work that was widely collected by participants of the Grand Tour. This was, arguably, the last truly first-class vessel making carried out in Venetian factories for more than 100 years. Certainly by 1807, when Napoleon closed the glass factories, little was left of the skills that had sustained Venice for two centuries as the undisputed leader in the production of fine glass.15