Battuto is a surface finishing technique that imitates the “distressed” effect of hammered metal. The word comes from the Italian verb ‘battere’; the action of repeated strokes. It may refer to surface decoration, a technique for working metal, as well as a marker of rhythm, an indicator of life through the pulse and heartbeat's rate, or a gauge of approval in applause.
Today battuto, inciso and vellato, are all glasswork terms that epitomize twentieth century Venetian glass. While blowing hot glass and working it cold seem to be opposed processes, both artisanal expertises require an immediate precision and control of the gesture or the breath. Direct, instantaneous and irreversible results ensue from every minor movement.
The battuto process originated in the early 1900s and can be found in glass works by the French manufacturers of Daum in Nancy, as well as 'hammered' glass works by Belgium glass masters Romain and Jeanne Gevaert in the 1920s. Fascinated by the technique, Venini & C.'s creative director Carlo Scarpa introduces battuto to Murano in the 1930s. It is likely that battuto was first applied on Murano glassworks in the grand old tradition of surface decoration used to mask imperfections in the glass. Scarpa however influenced the further development of the technique and new design applications making textured ornament off of the imperfections. Pieces featuring the battuto techniques were first shown in the Venice Biennale in 1938.
Paolo Venini and Carlo Scarpa's exploration of the design possibilities offered by the battuto technique, quickly inspired Murano's iconic glass artists such as Tobia Scarpa, Alfredo Barbini, Lino Tagliapietra, and Davide Salvadore.
The Italian glass makers’ mastery of the battuto resulted in a significant portfolio of glass designs.
In spite of battuto's widespread popularity at the time, the use of the technique in production has been confined almost exclusively to Venini & C. The painstaking and expensive technique faced resistance from other more traditional Murano glass manufacturers. It is only in the recent years that independent artists, inspired by the work of Scarpa and Venini, have started revisiting similar hammering, cutting, and grinding techniques to elaborate and refine the surface of their one-off and limited edition works.