A visit to the Romont Vitromusée has all the elements of a perfect day trip: a singular collection found in an historic setting that’s accessible via direct rail links running through a stunning, pastoral landscape.
From Medieval to Contemporary times
The Romont Vitromusée of Stained Glass and Reverse Painting on Glass exhibits some of Switzerland’s most historically significant and visually stunning glass objects in a 13th-century timber-beamed castle that sits amidst a medieval hilltop village, making a visit there more than just another day at the museum.
Stained glass treasures of the Medieval and Renaissance periods through to Contemporary works hang on three floors of the Castle’s 13th-century wing, renovated in 2006 to accomodate them. On the other side of a glass passerelle some 300 examples of reverse painting on glass found in pictures, jewellery and miniatures can be found in the 16th-century extension that includes a Baroque hall and two rooms renovated to reveal their original decor.
Now I have to admit that while I find the collection of reverse paintings comprehensive and really very impressive, personal taste has me spending considerably more time with the beauties of the stained glass collection.
Opalescent glass from the Tiffany Studios
There, too, I have my preferences, so while the Medieval and Renaissance pieces inspire my awe and admiration, my heart always tugs me over to the 19th- and 20th-century masterpieces. Of these my favourites include “Fama”, c.1900, by Carl Almquist and inspired by the English Arts & Crafts Movement; and Saint Cecilia, made the same year by Jakob Adolf Holzer using American opalescent glass from the Tiffany Studios in New York.
Holzer “plated” the glass in layers to achieve depth and subtlety of color, which explains how, for example, Saint Cecilia’s arm looks so natural with its gentle gradients of soft peach and brown. The entire work glows: a pretty, golden-haired girl attired in robes of yellow, emerald green and eggplant stands in a field of mother-of-pearl-colored irises, a soft pink halo around her head. If Holzer was trying to create something appropriately heavenly, he achieved it.
But if I had to choose something for my own home (do you do that at exhibitions, too?) it would be Lady with a Rose and its sister panel Lady with a Book, c. 1917, by Owen Bonawit (David Bowen), one of the most talented American glass artists of his time.
Instead of using flat glass, the glass here was cast in relief to produce a thicker end product with a contoured surface that offers more depth and luminosity. The panels evoke Tudor portraits with their characteristic damask background. They are lush but restrained and also serenely beautiful.
To tempt even more, you’ll also find pieces created by Frank Lloyd Wright, John La Farge, a rival of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and by Marc Chagall and Augusto Giacometti, to name a few.
Vitrocentre — art history, conservation, documentation
In 2008 the Vitrocentre joined the Museum in the Castle grounds and its staff of experts research the art history, conservation and technology of stained glass and reverse painting on glass and produce expert reports, books and articles relating to the glass arts.
A new project realized in December 2017, the Vitrosearch database offers a glimpse of the precious artworks kept at the Vitromusée and elsewhere in Switzerland.
Situated above Vevey in Canton Fribourg, getting to Romont involves some car or rail travel but direct trains arrive and depart hourly from and to Geneva and along the way the views of Lake Geneva and the rolling agricultural landscape make the trip worthwhile in its own right, as does a stroll around the Castle ramparts.
The Old Town of Romont, accessible from the station by a 10-to-15 minute uphill walk (take it slowly in the summer) has kept its charming Medieval buildings whose gardens can be seen from the castle ramparts.
A visit to the town has to include stopping by the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, a 15th-century Gothic style building that offers ancient and contemporary stained-glass windows to rival that of the nearby museum’s.
Venini & C., Genius Glassmaker at Murano
Until 11 November 2018, one more reason (if you need one) to head to Romont is the wonderful temporary exhibition “Venini & C., The Genius Glassmaker at Murano”, the fruit of a collaboration between the Romont Vitromusée and Le Stanze del Ventro in Venice.
Considered one of the key figures of glass art in the 20th century in Venice, Paolo Venini (1895-1959) trained as a lawyer, but in 1921 he joined with Giacomo Cappellin to establish a glass-making business in Murano, the island famous for its centuries-old tradition of glass art.
After establishing a new partnership with Napoleone Martinuzzi in 1929, Venini founded his eponymously-named business for which he acted as both director and designer. His creations lead to an international revival of glass art by joining a “sophisticated visual language” with an understanding for the demands of international markets and a mastery of the traditional techniques of Murano glass production.
The skill and know-how of the local glassblowers with whom he worked and his instinct for collaborating with artists, designers and architects of national and international renown contributed enormously to the business’s success.
The exhibition presents more than a hundred glass objects of incredible beauty, imagination, skill and sophistication designed by Paolo Venini from 1934 until his death as well as by Riccardo Licata, Tobia Scarpa, Charles Lin Tissot, Gio Ponti and Ken Scott. The fruit of their collaborative genius touches on the divine. ♥
Venini & C., The Genius Glassmaker at Murano
Until 11 November 2018
Exhibition Activities & Demonstrations
Au Château, P.O. Box 150
Phone: +41 (0)26 652 10 95
General Information (note: the museum closes between 1pm and 2pm)