What you see: A rare and important Mosaico vase by Nicolò Barovier, dating to the mid-1920s. Wright estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.
The expert: Sara Blumberg, a consultant for Wright.
Who was Nicolò Barovier, and what was Artisti Barovier? Barovier is the name of the company and the family. It’s one of the oldest glass furnaces in the world, and one of the oldest companies in the world. [The Barovier family business dates back to 1295.] Nicolò Barovier was related to Ercole Barovier, and both were the sons of Benvenuto Barovier. As it [the company] went forward, its name changed over time, and it became Barovier & Toso, which still exists.
Do we know how many Mosaico vases Nicolò Barovier made? We have ways of tracking them, but we don’t know how many were made. We can say quite easily that not many remain, and we can’t have definitive numbers. I can only tell you they’re very, very rare.
What does “very rare” mean in this context? In terms of the Mosaico vase, there’s somewhere around 100. There may be slightly more or less.
Is it difficult to tease out which Mosaico vases were made by Nicolò Barovier, and which were made by his brother? It’s very difficult to do. Nicolò didn’t sign all his pieces, and Ercole didn’t sign all his pieces. Sometimes we know [the authorship] through archival materials. Nicolò favored more plant-like patterning, where Ercole seemed to experiment with more specific kinds of patterns, almost geometric patterns. But they were made with the same spirit, in the same way, based on the same method.
I notice that elsewhere in the sale, there’s an Ercole Barovier Mosaico vase dating to the same time and having the same dominant blue color, but Ercole’s vase has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 while Nicolò’s is estimated at $300,000 to $500,000. Why do the estimates vary so much, given that they were made at the same time, in the same way, in the same general style? The Nicolò Barovier might be seen as having a slightly rarer form and patterning. There’s only one other known Nicolò Barovier like this. I personally see them as equal in importance and rarity, but the Nicolò Barovier is stunning to see, with exceptionally complicated patterning. In the Ercole Barovier, there’s a grid-like pattern. The Nicolò Barovier has stems and flowers–it’s a very complicated piece of glass.
How did the Baroviers make Mosaico vases? I get the impression that the glass-making technique wasn’t new in the 1920s, but they revived it and added to it? It’s rooted in an ancient technique involving murrine, or sliced canes of glass. The slices of glass are arranged on a plate that makes a pattern, whatever that might be. That was the first step in the ancient world. The difference [between then and the 1920s is the ancient pieces] weren’t blown, but slumped. They laid a configuration of glass over it and heated it.
And the heat would knit the glass slices and the glass matrix into a whole? Yes. What was new was the Baroviers figured out how to do it with blown glass–a miraculous feat.
How did they make the ancient technique work with blown glass? Picture a blob of clear glass on the end of a blowpipe. The molten glass is constantly spinning. The glass slices are laid out in a pattern on a plate. The glassblower puts the blob into the plate in a rolling fashion. The blowpipe keeps spinning. It never stops, ever. The glass slices are blown out, expanding them and the clear glass simultaneously. If it sounds difficult, it absolutely is. The finesse required is absolutely unbelievable.
…Uh, how strong do you have to be to execute a Mosaico vase? Very, very strong. It’s not for the faint of heart. A lot of the best [glassblowers] were strong, burly people who made very delicate things.
Did Nicolò Barovier participate in the actual glass-blowing, or did he create the Mosaico vase design and hand it off to others to execute? In almost every case, the designer of the glass never executes the glass. They hand it off to others.
And glass-blowing is a team effort, yes? What are the other people doing as the glassblower rolls the blob of clear glass in the plate of colored glass slices? They’re doing basically every task imaginable. They’re opening up the furnace so the glassblower can put it in and take it out, and they make sure the placement of the murrine is such so it [the required maneuvers] can happen quickly and easily. It’s quick because it has to be.
Sounds like a ballet. It is quite like that. Everyone has to work with absolute fluidity.
…and if one of the little glass slices slides out of place…? One mistake, and that can be enough to lose the piece.
And that’s why there aren’t that many Mosaico vases? They’re a pain in the butt to produce? Right, because there was so much loss and they were incredibly expensive to make. It was like studio glass. It was a way for the company to get attention, to show what they’re capable of. They’re very effective as a marketing tool.
Did the Barovier company sell these Mosaico vases? People did buy these things. They could go to the company and request that something be made. But we have no real records for this. We don’t know how many were sold and how many were made by request. But they were so expensive and difficult, they wouldn’t do it without a buyer.
So, you couldn’t buy a Mosaico vase at, say, Tiffany & Co., but if you saw one at a Biennale and were so moved that you approached the company and asked to buy one, you could get one. Exactly right. It’s like commissioning a painting.
The Nicolò Barovier Mosaico vase measures nine inches in diameter and 13 inches high. That’s big. Did its size make it more difficult to create? The larger it is, the more difficult it is to make. So many things can occur. It [the molten glass] becomes harder and harder to control.
How do we know this Nicolò Barovier Mosaico vase dates to between 1924 and 1925? There’s enough archival information to substantiate the date. We know when Nicolò Barovier was working, and we know precisely what was going on at the company.
The glass art takes the form of a vase, but would anyone have used it as a vase? I get asked that all the time. It’s certainly possible, but with the Mosaico, it’s unlikely. There’s no way to know how many people used them in this way.
This Nicolò Barovier Mosaico vase features his incised signature. Did he typically sign his vases, or is the signature inconsistent? It’s very inconsistent. As far as I can tell, less than half the Mosaico vases were signed. It’s an amazing thing to me to [think he could] make something so sublime and then not sign it. It’s a bit of a mystery why it’s inconsistent. It might have been that he didn’t sign them generally, but did if people asked him to do so.
What is the Nicolò Barovier Mosaico vase like in person? Are there aspects of it that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? It’s absolutely brilliant in person. Jim [Jim Oliveira, her business partner] describes it as three-dimensional stained glass, and that is what it feels like when you hold it in your hand. The only thing you can’t see in the photo is the beautiful rounded form, which doesn’t translate well.
What is your favorite detail of the Nicolò Barovier Mosaico vase? The stems that run down from the clusters of flowers. It’s a beautiful aspect of the pattern, very much like a natural element from the ground.
Could you also talk about the choice of color here–the dominant blue matched with orange and green? If you look at the body of work for Mosaico vases, generally speaking, the colors are quite vivid. There are Mosaico pieces in paler tones, but Nicolò Barovier looked at color as an important part of the design, to make it as alive as possible. And you do have this level of transparency–that dynamism is encouraged and enhanced by the use of strong colors.
Dynamism in the glass? Could you elaborate? When you look at the design, you can see the other side of the vase simultaneously. The color just heightens the experience.
What’s the world auction record for a Nicolò Barovier piece, and what’s the world auction record for any Barovier piece? The Nicolò Barovier record is ours, set in January 2019 by a Mosaico vase that sold for $317,000. The Barovier record belongs to a Bosco di Betulle vase sold at Christie’s London in October 2019 for £707,250 (about $837,000).
Why will this Nicolò Barovier Mosaico vase stick in your memory? I’ve had the great fortune of handling many of these over the years. I could easily describe every one in detail. Every single Mosaico vase I’ve seen and handled has had an impact on me. I’m very taken with them. Great art never leaves you.
Images are courtesy of Wright.
Sara Blumberg and Jim Oliveira have a website, Glass Past.
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