Ancient Glass Blog of The Allaire Collection


Posted in Uncategorized by Allaire Collection of Glass on January 7, 2021

Venetian Millefiori sphere on brass pedestal

 of the Henk-Martin Goldschmidt collection


Description: The sphere has a millefiori core within clear glass and formed from an assortment of composite canes in blue, red, green, white, turquoise and yellow canes and with a small gold foil inclusion.  It is pierced through the centre and mounted on a gilt metal pedestal and surmounted with a gilded figure of a Bacchic boy on a barrel. The brass foot has a mark on the bottom, part of which can be read as ‘20’.

Date and origin of manufacture: 16th or early 17th century, Venice, Italy.

Dimensions: 12.9 cm high overall, ball 3.5 cm diameter.

Condition: The glass sphere is fractured.

 Provenance: Auctioned at Bonhams previously on 20 May 2015, lot 8, there after acquired at Bonhams, November 2018, lot 17.

Function: Millefiori glass was made by the Romans and the techniques as well as the shape revived in the 16th century, starting in Italy. Spheres of millefiori canes survived in many collections and they have been mounted in a number of different ways. A hole was drilled through it and they were either used as a pendant (e.g. page 63 TL) or a table piece in which case the sphere is mounted on a metal pedestal. From various inventories it seemed a sought after collector’s item. In case of millefiori paperweights the appearance is much more frequent.

Parallels glass sphere: Related millefiori spheres are in a number of collections.

–  One with identical canes to this ball is in the British Museum (ref. no. WT.1154). The diameter is 3.5 cm, the millefiori decoration includes some small gold elements, a small pierced hole through centre, dated 17th century with Venice as the production place.

– The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam holds a similar sphere, again with identical canes, mounted between silver rosettes from a latter date; 4.1 cm in diameter, 16th century made in Venice.

– Others are in the Historisches Museum, Basel (illustrated by Landolt and Ackermann (1991), no.61) and in Veste Coburg, discussed at length by Anna-Elisabeth Theuerkauff-Liederwald, Venezianisches Glas der Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg (1994), pp.62-67. They clearly have another internal composition. However the Coburg collection holds two pedestals, one with a negroid person on top and the other with a female person mounted (both dated 16th century, Venice). Total height per item 8.7 cm, resp. 17.5 cm while the diameter was 7.8 cm and 5.0 cm respectively.

– The Corning museum has a multicolored glass sphere with a diameter of 5,1 cm, within a pendant construction, dated 1550 – 1600 AD with Venice as the place it was made (2004.3.44 accession number).

– Two further examples were sold by Bonhams on 3 November 2016, lot 22 and 15 November 2017, lot 1. Both 16th or early 17th century. Lot 22: Sphere with an assortment of composite canes in blue, red, green, purple, white, turquoise and amber; the canes set into a core of gold foil, all enclosed within clear glass, the sphere has a 3.4 cm diameter, pierced through the centre and mounted between silver florets and with a metal suspension ring, identical canes and size as the sphere described here. Lot 1: Sphere has a scrambled arrangement of composite canes in green, blue, brick-red, purple, white, turquoise and amber, some of the canes set into a fragment of gold foil and all enclosed within clear glass, a 4.3 cm diameter, pierced through the centre and mounted between silver-gilt ‘Tudor Roses” linked by a silver-gilt strap possibly for suspension (some abrasion, internal flaws probably from manufacture).

Parallel brass pedestal: The British museum houses a table ornament in the form of a youthful naked Bacchus on a barrel holding a cup, it was made in Nuremberg (Germany) in 1590 to circa 1602 (museum number WB. 131). The resemblance with the brass figure on the pedestal is striking.

Discussion:Millefiori glass has been studied for years. Especially in 1985 and 1986 the papers of Cesare Moretti and Heikamp were groundbreaking. Ten years later Anna-Elisabeth Theuerkauff-Liederwald published a thorough investigation of many of the millefiori glass spheres known. Various terms were in use for this phenomena such as glass mosaic (vetro mosaico), murrine (colored glass images made into a glass cane, images are revealed when the cane is cut into thin cross-sections), sometimes the canes were characterized as ‘canne rosette’.

Millefiori: Mullefiori literally means  “thousand flowers” in Italian and refers to multicolored cane glassware. This is an originally Italian glass decoration technique dating back to the 15th century. Different colored small pieces of glass are regularly arranged and fused together for a mosaic-like effect. Known are the paperweights with millefiori. The evidence of the first multifiori spheres made around 1500 is impressive, however the dating of the individual items is not.

Detail of Venetian Millefiori sphere on brass pedestal

 of the Henk-Martin Goldschmidt collection

Millefleurs: Millefleurs literally means “thousand flowers” in French and refers to a background made of many small flowers and plants. It was a particularly popular motif in tapestries and other applied arts and crafts in the Middle Ages in Europe. The millefleur style enjoyed the greatest popularity in French and Flemish tapestries from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The best-known examples are The Lady and the Unicorn and The Hunt for the Unicorn.

A detail of ‘Millefleurs tapestry with birds’ (height 163 cm x width 107 cm), southern Netherlands, circa 1510. This tapestry is woven in wool and silk: warp in wool and weft in wool and silk (very little). It is here merely shown to enable a comparison with the millefiori Venetian design. Where the Venetian glass artist influenced by these designs or are we looking at developments on parallel pathways?

Detail of Flemish Millefleurs tapestry

 of the Henk-Martin Goldschmidt collection

So the Venetian artists were for sure well aware of the millefleur tapestries. However, when conceiving their millefiori works they were not named as such. This was only done in the 19th century. The term they used was ‘mosaic glass’.

Conclusion: The main conclusion it that there are more questions as answers left. Many of the millefiori spheres viewed have similar cane parts enclosed. Apart from the inventories they were mentioned, there is no real evidence that they are Venetian and 16th or early 17th century of age. Their use, as a pendant and table piece however makes sense.  The writing of Theuerkauff-Liederveld, based upon the work of Cesare Moretti, provides a descriptive, detailed survey of these glass spheres. Probably only several dozen millefiori spheres are left over the years. A comprehensive study describing the canes used, the colors present and the XRF spectra measured would probably provide some answers. Until now we classify this millefiori sphere pedestal as Venetian around 1600 with a metal holder added on a latter date on another location.


– Venezianisches Glas der Veste Coburg, Anna-Elisabeth Theuerkauff-Liederwald, Luca Verlag Lingen, 1994, pages 58-73, an extensive description of the phenomenon, plates on pages 90 and 91.

– Glass in the Rijksmuseum, Pieter C Ritsema van Eck, Henrica M Zijlstra-Zweens, volume 1, pp 12-111, fig page 244, cat number 6.

– Fine Glass and paperweights, Bonhams 20th May 2015, page 9, lot 8 as well as 14th November 2018, lot 17.

– Bonhams British and European Ceramics and Glass, 3 November 2016, lot 22, Bonhams Fine Glass and British Ceramics, 15 November 2017, lot 1.

– Masterpieces of Tapestry, From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century. An exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas Hoving, Francis Salet and Genevieve Souchal, 1974, numbers 32 – 49.

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