History of Murano Glassmaking
It is believed that glassmaking in Murano originated from 9th century Rome, with significant Asian and Muslim influences, as Venice was a major trading port. Murano’s reputation as a centre for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction to the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still interwoven with Venetian glass. Murano's glassmakers were soon the island’s most prominent citizens. By the 14th century, glassmakers were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state and found their daughters married into Venice’s most affluent families. However glassmakers were not allowed to leave the Republic. Many craftsmen took this risk and set up glass furnaces in surrounding cities and as far afield as England and the Netherlands.Read More
By the end of the 16th century, three thousand of Murano island's seven thousand inhabitants were involved in some way in the glassmaking industry.
Murano’s glassmakers held a monopoly on quality glassmaking for centuries, developing or refining many technologies including crystalline glass, enamelled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (aventurine), multicolored glass (millefiori), milk glass (lattimo), and imitation gemstones made of glass. Today, the artisans of Murano are still employing these century-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass and glass figurines to Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers.
Today, Murano is home to a vast number of factories and a few individual artist studios making all manner of glass objects from mass marketed stemware to original sculpture. The Museo Vetrario or Glass Museum in the Palazzo Giustinian, which holds displays on the history of glassmaking as well as glass samples ranging from Egyptian times through the present day. Murano Glass was produced in great quantities in the 1950s and 1960s for export and for tourists.
The Art of Glassmaking: The process of making Murano glass is rather complex. Most Murano glass art is made using the lampworking technique. The glass is made from silica which becomes liquid at high temperatures. As the glass passes from a liquid to a solid state, there is an interval when the glass is soft before it hardens completely. This is when the glass-master can shape the material.
Murano glass today: Some of the Murano's historical glass factories remain today as well known brands, amongst them Venini, Barovier & Toso, Pauly and Seguso. The oldest glass factory is Antica Vetreria Fratelli Toso, founded in 1854.
Materials: The other raw materials, called flux or melting agents, soften at lower temperatures. The more sodium oxide present in the glass, the slower it solidifies. This is important for hand-working because it allows the glassmaker more time to shape the material. The various raw materials that an artisan might add to a glass mixture are sodium (to make the glass surface opaque), nitrate and arsenic (to eliminate bubbles) and coloring or opacifying substances. Colors, techniques and materials vary depending upon the look a glassmaker is trying to achieve. Aquamarine is created through the use of copper and cobalt compounds whereas ruby red uses a gold solution as a coloring agent. Murrine technique begins with the layering of colored liquid glass, which is then stretched into long rods called canes (see cane working). When cold, these canes then sliced in cross-section, which has the layered pattern. The better-known term "millefiori" is a style of murrine that is defined by each layer of molten color being shaped by a mold into a star, then cooled and layered again. When sliced, this type of murrine has many points (thus mille (thousand). Filigree a type of cane working, incalmo, enamel painted, engraving, gold engraving, lattimo, ribbed glass and submersion are just a few of the other techniques a glassmaker can employ.
Sommerso: (lit. "submerged" in Italian), or "sunken glasses", is a form of artistic Murano glass that has layers of contrasting colors (typically 2), which are formed by dipping the object in molten glass; the outermost layer, or casing, is often clear. Sommerso was first formed in Murano during the late thirties, made popular by Seguso d'Arte in the fifties. This process is a popular technique for vases, and is sometimes used to form sculptures.
Tools: It is essential that Murano artisans use tools in the making of their glass. Some of these tools include borselle (tongs or pliers used to hand-form the red-hot glass), canna da soffio (blowing pipe), pontello (an iron rod to which the craftsman attaches the object after blowing in order to add final touches), scagno (the glass-master's workbench) and tagianti (large glass-cutting clippers).