Venetian glass became famous throughout the Mediterranean world from the thirteenth century onwards for its remarkable colour and clarity, elaborate design and skilful manufacture. Cristallo, as the Venetians referred to it, was prized throughout Europe for its unsurpassed technical facility and transparent, watery fineness. Such qualities were emulated by major European glasshouses, in particular the Low Countries, where seventeenth-century façon de Venise glass reached great heights of sophistication. Today it is often difficult to distinguish the finest imitations from the Venetian originals.

Liquid Light: 500 Years of Venetian Glass draws upon the National Gallery of Victoria’s extensive holdings of Venetian glass, ranging in date from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. The NGV’s Collections are especially rich in material from the nineteenth-century revival of the glass industry on the Venetian island of Murano.

In 1871 a large collection of Venetian glass was acquired directly from Venice by the proconsul to the Kingdom of Italy, and a further group of works was acquired in 1874, selected by Antonio Salviati, the father of the Venetian glass revival. Further important groups of nineteenth-century Venetian glass entered the Collection from the Italian displays at the 1880–81 Melbourne International Exhibition. The twentieth century saw Venetian glass artists become key participants in the international Studio Glass movement, and a number of significant examples of their work are now in the Collection. It was to Venetian glass manufacturers that designers of the 1980s Memphis Group turned to realise their postmodern ideals.