How is Murano glass born?
Murano is the largest island in the Venice Lagoon, and is known for its wonderful artistic glass creations. Murano glass is known throughout the world for its shapes and the variety of colors that other glassworks could not produce.
The origins of glass.
The presence of this activity is witnessed already in the sixth century BC from archaeological excavations that have brought to light some fragments of glass. In the Egyptian pyramids archaeologists have found small finds, pearls and glass decorations.
However, all these objects were extremely rough and opaque and exclusively green or blue.
Only the Romans, centuries later, were able to make the glass transparent.
It is believed that the art of Venetian glass originates directly from the glass processing of the ancient Romans, who, fleeing from their cities due to the barbarian invasions, settled in the areas of the upper Adriatic.
Venice, since its earliest origins, has represented the arrival point for maritime trade between East and West. It was this strategic position that made the Venetians suffer many Asian and Middle Eastern influences, especially in the production of glass.
The first splendor
The Venetians, with their aesthetic taste and their intuitions, soon distinguished themselves for their colorful but elegant and refined productions.
The first documents that testify to the activity of glass art in Venice are from 982 d.c. In these, and in other documents of the following years, different personalities are mentioned with the title of “artisan glassmaker”.
However, it was in 1291 that Murano became the center of glass processing. The Republic of Venice ordered the transfer of all the furnaces to the island for security reasons. The houses of the time were made of wood and the fire, a primary element for the production of glass, could have caused fires, with disastrous consequences for the city of Venice.
But this was only one of the reasons, Many in fact think that the real motivation lies in the Serenissima’s desire to bind all glass masters and their trade secrets on an island.
The Murano Renaissance
The Renaissance was an extremely flourishing period for Murano production, with a vast expansion of glass production in Venice and important innovations in the processing of glass itself.
New techniques were born. The concentration of artists and glass masters on the island of Murano gave rise to a continuous and fruitful exchange of ideas and innovations that made the Venetian glass market exponentially develop.
Many were the master glassmakers who handed down important discoveries related to the production of glass: first of all the master Angelo Barovier, who discovered the processes that led to the creation of the “Venetian Crystal”, the first truly transparent glass in the world.
In 1500 the Murano glass saw its highest splendor.
After refining the techniques and developing the materials thanks to the experiences of the previous century, the glassmakers devoted themselves to the study and improvement of the shapes of the artefacts. The blown glass became thin and very pure, the shapes becoming more and more essential.
Sculptures, glasses, pearls, and other decorations … Murano was a swarm of production and creativity.
At the end of the 1600s the Maestro Giuseppe Briati invented the design of the famous flowered Murano chandelier, which still remains very valorous all over the world.
Until mid-1700 d.c. Murano was the only European glass center able to supply refined products: glasses, bottles, cups and jewelry. The master glassmakers developed extremely sophisticated manual techniques for shaping and decorating products. the production of “Murano glass” was in great demand in all European courts.
For centuries, in Murano, the art of glass was in the hands of a few powerful families and the glassmasters handed down their knowledge from one generation to another. They jealously kept the secret on the processing techniques and on the dosage percentages of the individual components to make Murano glass.
The protection of this secret was such that until the last century the glassmasters could not emigrate, otherwise all their assets would be confiscated.
But despite these laws, apprentices and teachers moved to various European countries, giving a new impulse to European glass production.
The reawakening of production on the island began not before the second half of the 1800s, with the rediscovery of ancient artistic techniques such as filigree, aventurine and the ancient Roman technique of “murrina”.
the 1800 crisis
The competition of the new countries, and the blockage of the naval trade during the French domination, began to undermine the Murano production, which entered a serious decline just in coincidence with the end of the independence of the Republic, in 1797.
But the real crisis for Murano came with the fall of the Napoleonic empire and the imposition of the Habsburg rules on Venice.
Bohemian crystals were clearly favored. At the beginning of the 1800s, during their twenty-year reign over Venice, they taxed and drastically reduced the import of the necessary raw materials, creating enormous problems for the production of Murano glass.
About half of all the factories in Murano closed during the twenty years of the Habsburg empire. The few who resisted produced purely commercial objects such as pearls and glass bottles.
These productions certainly were not enough to support Murano, nor to satisfy the creativity of the glass masters in the long term.
By now, with the end of the era of discoveries, and developed multiple centers for the production of commercial glass in Europe, Murano was in full decline.
Murano glass academy
It was the Abbot Vincenzo Zanetti one of the personalities thanks to which Murano is still famous in the world today, to convince the Murano people that, by valuing his own skills and values, he could have returned to the splendor of the past.
In his life he tied himself to some Venetian personalities, who supported his proposal for the establishment of a Historical Archive, in which the priest wanted to collect as many documents as possible on the history of Murano.
In this way he founded a school for glassmasters.
The “Abate Zanetti” school is still active today and represents one of the focal points of Made in Italy in the world. (Find out more)
Despite this it is seen in a very controversial way by some producers of the island.
Venerated by many, it is also indicated as one of the causes of today’s decline in the Murano trade.
The new Murano glass production
Towards the end of the 1800s, thanks to the interest of foreign collectors, signs of recovery were seen. Some glassworks were re-used and some of the ancient fusion techniques were reused and improved.
We began to hear about great names like Salviati, Seguso and Moretti.
In 1861 the “Glass Museum” of Murano was founded, coinciding with the foundation of the aforementioned Abate Zanetti glass school.
At the end of the 1800s the Art Noveau movement came into being which, with its floral themes, also influenced the Murano glass production. Murano glass production is reborn in the early 1900s thanks to the Biennale exhibition in 1914, where Vittorio Toso Borella’s enamelled Murano glass and Vittorio Zecchin’s murrine were very successful.
In those years, Venini revived the transparent and colored crystal.
With the birth of mass tourism, glassworks start to produce and export their products all over the world.
Names like MVM Cappelin & C., Vetri Soffiati Muranesi, Venini & C., Seguso Vetri d’Arte, Ferro Toso Barovier, Salir, Avem and Moretti, will restore luster to this centuries-old art.
Glass district crisis
Today, unfortunately, this art is in crisis again. The reasons are various, to be found in the economic crisis, but also in the lack of generational turnover.
The work of a glass craftsman requires commitment and a particular technical skill, in the face of a rather small economic return and a stagnant labor market: unfortunately for a young person there are not many job prospects.
To make matters worse there is also the placing on the market of glass at very low prices, most coming from Asian countries, such as China