What’s the tradition and the innovation in Murano?
We have been asked, quite often “Did the handcrafted glass tradition started in Murano?” Well, the glass production in the territory of the Venetian Lagoon started, at least, 1000 years ago – long before the denomination “Murano Glass” had been created – but the artists of Murano gave one of the biggest contribution to make Venice famous worldwide.
When Murano started to produce glass?
It is undeniable that a decree of the Republic, in 1291, established that all the furnaces had to be relocated in Murano, due to safety reasons, but it is an indisputable, as well, that the glass artisans were already an integral part of the Venetian economy at least 300 years before, in the very early days. The act of donation of the San Giorgio Island to the Benedictine monks in the year 982 was signed by the witness Domenicus Fiolarus, a glass artisan expert in making “fiole” – a particular kind of bottle used in that era. If you are planning to escape from the crowd of San Marco and visit he nearby San Giorgio Island – famous for its Palladian architecture, its stunning view from the Church tower and, invariably, the Museum “Le stanze del vetro”, dedicated to contemporary glass – then you know from now that in Venice nothing is placed somewhere randomly.
Why visiting Murano?
However, if you think you could fall in love with the Art of Glass, no matter if you are more interested in goblets and mirrors, instead of vases and sculptures, the first step is a guided tour in a furnace in Murano. The island is still today a world-renowned center and, in the meanwhile, a Medieval prototype of an Industrial District. After 730 years, Murano is still able to amaze the first-time visitors, as well as the most demanding glass collectors, thanks to its “resilient nature”, well represented by many generations of artists and enterpreneurs which proved, throughout the centuries, to be able to overcome cyclical crisis by reinventing themselves and the glass, rising from the ashes, like a Phoenix.
How to make Murano glass?
The Glass is an alchemy made of Earth (sand), Air (blown and cooling), Water (cooling), and Fire. As for the tools, almost nothing has changed in this 100% hand-made product: oven, pipes, pincers and scissors, special molds, and few others items are still, more or less, the same as in the past. The difference is always in the hand and the creativity of the masters and of their working teams, often in collaboration with the designers from other disciplines. The technology of the ovens, of course, has changed, along with the chemical components used for the colors, some techniques and the design, but the basic ingredients are always sand, soda, potash, different mineral oxides, enamels, golden leaf, etc.
How to protect from fake glass?
A furnace will always keep jealously the secrets of its formulas. The Serenissima Republic harshly punished the industrial espionage and Murano is a forge of anecdotes and mysterious stories. Today the strategies of the Consortium Promovetro concerning the protection of this unique product against the market of the fakes could not be the same. The glass masters are, fortunately, not confined anymore in their island. They are free to travel abroad and they are increasingly involved in a global network of cultural exchanges, as it is witnessed by a long-term collaboration between Murano and a “young city” full of glass artists like Seattle.
Murano glass is like music?
Murano glass is still the art characterized by hand sculpting and blowing, vibrant colors and incandescent masses that take shapes in contact with the air, thanks to the skilful movements of the masters. It may sound a hazardous comparison, but making glass and making music do have a lot in common: the glass master has often a very well defined plan, like a music sheet, and watching the process of glass will always give, any time, different emotions to the artist and to the public. Every “handkerchief”, every single “flame” of a chandelier or a goblet, despite its belonging to a definite collection, is always unique and not 100% replicable, like in a concert. In the meanwhile, there are furnaces where experimenting and research are the core of the production. In both cases, the Venetian glass can be fully experienced only in Murano.
What to find on a glass furnace visit?
The relatively short hand-made processing time makes us possible to attend and enjoy a relevant part of the production as it was a show, from the incandescent almost shapeless mass to a well-defined product, before the final steps of slow cooling and finishing. Every visit to a factory will be like a different show, depending on the profile of the factory itself, the masters and the phases of the production. It is hard to compare the glass to other fine arts, but the glass has a broad range of feelings and emotions, because it is also integral part of our everyday life.
Who invented the transparent glass?
Every time you raise a flute of champagne for a toast, remember that you can clearly see the color of the wine because Angelo Barovier created the first transparent glass around the year 1455 in Murano, where probably the eye-glasses and the sun-glasses have been invented too. Those seminal years, starting from the Renaissance, were a kind of a big-bang for the tireless creation of new colors, shapes and techniques as “calcedonio” , “avventurina” and “lattimo” (imitations of marbles, quartz and porcelain), filigree, “incalmo”, “incamiciato”, “sommerso”, still today reinterpreted by the contemporary glassmasters and appreciated worldwide.
photo by Davide Calenda
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