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THE HISTORY AND TRADITION OF MURANO'S GLASS

History

For centuries the handcrafting of glass has been an important economic reality for the city of Venice. The oldest document found related to the art of glass making dates back to 982. It describes a donation of glass and after the discovery of this document, the 100th anniversary of glass blowing was celebrated in Venice in 1982. Many documents from the end of the 1200’s testify the foundation of glass factories along the so-called Rio dei Vetrai a Murano, where nowadays you can find the oldest glass laboratories. Starting in the year 1450, thanks to the intuitions and genius of Angelo Barovier, a member of an ancient Murano family, there was an evolution in glass working techniques that would develop in the following two centuries. These changes brought about elevated creations and an incomparable purity in the glass. In the XVI century, Murano’s glass saw its brightest age: the techniques were perfected and the materials were fully developed thanks to the experiences of the fifteenth century. From then on, the glass masters dedicated themselves to perfecting the shape and the form. Blown glass became incredibly thin and pure, the shapes more essential and light. It was made to enrich the surfaces of European nobility. In those days there was also the presence of industrial espionage between the glass factories. Glass makers attempted to steal the secret techniques of the best producers in Murano. The Venetian Republic acknowledged the artistic talents of those masters who introduced innovative methods in glass making. They also insisted on protecting their secrets, such as the invention of the techniques filigrana a ritortoli and the filigrana a reticello. These assigned “privileges” lasted for only a certain amount of time before the methods were used by all of the factories on the island. The government also tried to limit the migration of the glass masters and their knowledge: in 1605 the Golden Book was written listing the names of noble families on the island of Murano, also known as the Glass Nobility. In the 20th century, Murano’s masters followed contemporary artistic movements, dedicating themselves to a sophisticated craft and experimentation in their own art. They respected the millenary tradition that allows Murano glass to be a unique product, prestigious and incomparable.

The Work Process

Venetian glass is made out from silica, a particular sand that becomes glass only after a certain chemical reaction. Adding sodium lowers the temperature of this important reaction. The potassium, an alternative to sodium and typical substance from Nordic countries, generates a bright glass that is good for grinding and engraving (like the English lead glass), but not for the complex work, typical in the Venetian tradition. The first mixing of materials takes place at night, and this process lasts the entire evening. To the two principle materials, a stabilizer (similar to calcium carbonate) is added, and eventually the color and opaque formula. The reverberation oven melts the materials at a temperature of approximately 1400 °C, and in the morning the glass workers find the melted materials ready to be modelled. The glass mix remains workable until it reaches a temperature of 500 °C. Those who work on the glass are collectively called la piazza, a group composed of helpers who are coordinated by the glass master. The product is worked on by expert grinders that then proceed with the smoothing of the glass and other finishing touches. The engraving process is completed in independent laboratories by very highly specialized decorators. If the final decoration requires color, the object is painted in another specific laboratory.

Techniques

Hand Blown glass

The glass blowing technique was discovered in the First century B.C on the oriental shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This endures as the most important event in glass history. Particularly in Venice, hand glass blowing remains a privileged technique that produces high quality products. Murano’s masters have developed, starting in the Medieval Ages, an extraordinary ability to model and have invented new ways of making better shapes, always more and more sophisticated. Of all the techniques the most important is the filigree: in its both ways “retortoli” or “reticello”, which were born in the XVI Century, they recreate the effects of a net inside the glass itself.

Carving

This is used more often with translucent or slightly colored crystals in two ways: with a point of a diamond or wheel carving (realized with a small rotating metal wheel and provides a deeper cut than the diamond process).

Lamps

From Medieval Ages to the early XVIII century the so called cesendello was the most refined illumination system in houses and churches: it was a stretched out container, usually hung from the ceiling, filled with water and a layer of oil with a wick. A remarkable discovery in the XVIII century was the ciocca, a crystal lamp with arms that carried candle holders. This design included elements in blown glass and was decorated with colorful glass flowers and other pending elements: this model of a lamp is still highly produced today.

Glass Pearls

The most simplified pears are called conterie, pearls that can be rounded or with edges, created by extending hot glass tubes from the oven for up to ten meters. The manual skills are exalted in a so-called lume, a glass stick softened by the fire of a flame that is spooled around a metal tube. In this way, the pearl can assume every form the master desires and is later decorated with colored glass.

Murrina

This ancient technique, even older than the glass blowing, was rediscovered in the XIX century after almost two thousand years of not being used. Using a pre determined drawing, single colored tiles or sections of colored glass sticks are combined in the oven. This process allows the worker to obtain really brightly colored glass.

Sculpture

The difficulties in the techniques involved in modeling heavy masses of incandescent glass have been present for glass workers since the 1930’s. Today, sculptures occupy a fundamental position in the production of Murano’s glass.

Working with Fire

This effect is created by using a colored glass stick softened by a flame. It allows one to realize objects in any desired shape.

Crystal work

Since the Medieval Ages glassware has been a typical product of Murano. Today, well known designers collaborate with factories to realize contemporary models.

Mirrors

In the last centuries, glass sheets were handmade in Murano (by opening a blown cylinder) and then were elaborated by the mirror shops in Venice. This tradition has been preserved and expert mirror masters use the finest decorative techniques to equal the quality of the original masterpieces.

Enameling

This describes ornamental painting on the glass’ surface within the same glass material. Coming from the Islamic and Byzantine tradition, the art of enameling developed in Murano in the XIII century.

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