Glass Act

by Danilo Brunetti

A tiny island just a stone’s throw from Venice is the birthplace of the world-famous glass known simply by the island’s name: Murano. An outstanding example of Made in Italy, Murano glass is the result of an artform that was developed between the 15th and 17th centuries, although its roots are more ancient, as evidenced by the glass that has survived from the Roman and Byzantine periods. The island of Murano, with its charming character and numerous artisanal glass shops, is an evocative world made up of blown glass in a thousand shapes and colors, true works of art made with expert techniques.

The production of Murano glass still follows the same criteria from centuries ago, and this is the essence of its universal charm. Artistic glass has always been a vital mainstay of Venice’s economy, and documents concerning its production have been found that date back to the year 982. In 1291 the Doge of Venice decided to move the glass foundries to the islet of Murano to prevent res from breaking out in the predominantly wooden Venetian houses, and in the 16th century, the glass experienced its greatest splendor. As the expertise of the glassmakers improved, the surface of the glass became thinner and purer, the forms increasingly more essential and light, suitable to embellish the tables of wealthy European families. In the 20th century, the Murano masters followed the developments of contemporary art, combining sophisticated craftsmanship and experimentation with avant-garde movements, all the while respecting the thousand-year tradition that makes Murano glass a unique, prestigious, and inimitable product.

The production of Murano glass requires numerous, complex steps. Aventurine is an ancient process that involves the winding of copper wires into the glass mass. Filigree, on the other hand, is a decorative technique that incorporates smooth threads of contrasting glass. Lattimo, on the other hand, is an opaque glass (made with tin and lead mortar) created for the first time in Murano in the middle of the 16th century to imitate the white of Oriental porcelain. Crystal is considered the most precious Murano glass: transparent and colorless, its secret lies in the purity of the materials used in its creation.

Most Murano pieces are still made using the glassblowing technique that dates back to 300 BC in the Middle East. With the combination of silica dust, temperatures upwards of 1600 degrees Celsius, and the blowing of air, liquid, malleable glass is transformed into its solid state. The range of objects made with Murano glass is wide and varied. Perhaps most celebrated is the chandelier, the most famous of which, the ciocca, dates back to the 18th century. This crystal chandelier with candle-holder arms incorporates blown-glass details, multi-colored glass flowers, and hanging elements. Among the “second processing” techniques, that is, non-hot processes such as decoration and engravings, the fusion glass technique places sections of different colored glass on a ceramic fiber plate covered with glass beads that are then joined together, creating numerous overlappings of color. The result is a multicolored vitreous texture called murrina. In centuries past, handmade slabs of Murano glass were further worked into splendid mirrors by the Venetian mirror makers. The tradition has been preserved, and expert mirror artisans apply the finest decorative techniques to match the quality of those ancient artifacts. Glassware has been a mainstay of Murano output since the Middle Ages. Today, famous designers collaborate with the glassworks to create contemporary pieces, considered true works of art, with every detail rigorously researched and curated.

Enamel decoration is an ornamental painting technique executed with a material formed with the same components as the glass on which it is applied. Of Islamic and Byzantine origin, the art of enamel arrived in Murano in the 13th century. Engraving, on the other hand, is applied to colorless or slightly colored crystal in one of two ways: with a diamond-tipped stylus or a small metal wheel.

Last but not least, dexterity in glassmaking is exalted in the so-called a lume technique, in which an unperforated glass rod is softened by the fire from a torch, then wrapped around a small metal tube, so as to create glass beads that are shaped and decorated with polychrome glass.

Where to Buy :

Glassy Venezia – This boutique is dedicated to Murano glass in all its forms, from glassware and chandeliers to vases and jewelry. They also offer pure glass objects that recreate masterpieces by Klimt, Van Gogh, Monet, and more. Via Principe Amedeo, 7. Tel 064870875.

Trevi Gallery – All items sold here are certified and numbered by hand-selected artists and artisans to offer the customer the nest quality available. There are objects to decorate the house, glass sculptures, jewelry, vases, glassware, and a delightful range of glass animals. Via delle Muratte, 15. Tel 0669200725.

Original Murano Glass – Here you can admire a wide range of items of different colors and shapes such as vases (both classic and contemporary), jewels, sculptures, and chandeliers, all offered at competitive prices. Also sells original Venetian masks. Via del Lavatore, 33 and 87a/b. Tel 066789860.