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Whether you are a seasoned collector of refined decorative glass or you are looking for a new light piece to brighten up your home interior, Murano Glass offers an abundance of designs and styles in endless possible shapes, colors and techniques to add personality to your home.
What makes glassware from the Venetian island of Murano such iconic and timeless design pieces?
Not only can Murano look back on a rich 700 year old history of traditional glass making but it also boasts an impressive list of pioneering techniques and innovative designers that kept their technical secrets by passing them down from one generation to the next. These glassmakers knew that in order to remain at the top of their game and please the ever evolving taste of their affluent clientele, they had to regularly reinvent themselves and their craft.
Glassmaking has been a Venice tradition since the Roman Empire. In the 8th Century, the Serenissima already had a reputation as a major glassmaking center.
During the late 1200's a glassmaker’s guild was established and in 1291 the Venetian Republic ordered all its glassmakers to move their foundries onto the island of Murano, for fear of fire and destruction of the mostly wooden infrastructure of Venice. Over the next centuries, many unique historical techniques were developed and perfected on the island, such as crystalline glass, enameled glass ('smalto'), golden glass, multicolored glass ('millefiori'), milk glass ('lattimo'), as well as imitation gemstones.
During that time, Murano's reputation for excellence in glassmaking grew and became world renown, while the island's glassmakers prospered.
Though the glassmakers were among the most affluent and prominent members of Venetian society, they were not allowed to leave the Republic for fear of selling or sharing their professional secrets. Any attempt to this was punishable by death.
Check the item for stickers or makers marks. An item that states ‘Made in Italy’, ‘Made in Venice’ or even ‘Made in Murano’ is most likely not authentic and often made in China .
If an item bears the specific trademark of the 'Vetro Artistico®’ it is authentic, but only more recent Murano glass pieces bear this mark.
An item that is described as ‘Murano Style’ is most likely not real Murano Glass either.
In any case, whether you are shopping online or in an antique store, it is always best to identify Murano Glass through the signature of a master glassmaker, a catalog or an authenticity certificate or original label. Many auction catalogs also can tell you about signature and label placement for specific glassmakers and manufacturers.
Murano Glass is made of 70% silica sand, with the remaining percentage made up of stabilizing agents and other ingredients which allow the glass to be melted at a lower temperature. This lower temperature is necessary in order to create uniform and bubble-free glass. Stabilizers such as lime or even soda prevent the glass from being soluble in water. Sodium may be also be added to turn the glass opaque.
Sodium oxide is frequently used in order to slow down the solidifying process. This in turn allows the glassmaker more time to sculpt and shape the glass before it cools down and hardens.
Basic Murano Glass is colorless. The beloved and sheer endless kaleidoscope of colors is added into the base recipe by mixing in specific minerals, oxides and chemicals. A wide range of specific techniques have been developed over the centuries, such as enameled glass ('smalto'), threads of gold ('aventurine'), milk glass ('lattimo') and even glass imitation gemstones.
A very popular technique is the 'Murrine' technique, which starts with layering colored liquid glass, then stretching it out and slicing it in cross-sections that reveal intricately layered patterns. A specific version of this technique, where the cross-sections reveal star or flower shapes, is called 'Millefiori'. The Murrine can be arranged in patterns and heated in order to create larger single sheets to be used in multiple design applications.
Another more recent popular technique is 'Sommerso' (Italian for 'submerged'), which layers thick glass in contrasting colors by dipping one into the other before blowing them into shape. This technique was initially pioneered in the 1930s and the Seguso and Mandruzzato glassblowing families made it widely popular in the following decades.
The oldest glass factory still in operation today is the Antica Vetreria Fratelli Toso, founded in 1854. Among the other historical Murano factories are Gabbiani, Seguso, Venini, Vetreria Artistica Barovier, Fratelli Toso, De Biasi, Alessandro Mandruzzato, Vetreria Ducale and others.
Some of the most famous master glass makers from Murano are Ercole Barovier, Archimede Seguso, Aureliano Toso, Galliano Ferro, Vincenzo Nason, Alfredo Barbini, and Carlo Moretti.
In recent decades the industry has been receding due to changing design preferences and the many imitations flooding the Murano Glass market. In the past 15 years, the number of professional glassmakers on the island has shrunk from 6000 to 1000.
In the 1990s, a specific trademark, the 'Vetro Artistico® Murano' was created in order to certify authenticity and to attempt to curb the growing market of foreign imitations. Only companies that manufacture products on the island of Murano are allowed to apply for this trademark.
Ciocche chandeliers are the typical Murano Glass chandeliers that found their iconic visual identity at the beginning of the 18th century. Giuseppe Briati was the most famous chandelier maker of the time and created models with multiple sinuous arms covered in decorative polychrome garlands, leaves, fruits and flowers. After all, 'ciocca' literally means 'bouquet of flowers' in Italian.
Briati managed to create a bright and strong crystal in cooperation with Bohemian glass workers and thereby managed to compete with English and Bohemian crystals of the time. His chandeliers became highly fashionable and were mostly used to brighten up palazzos and theatres.
The specific type of opulent and colorful chandelier Briati was most famous for was called 'Rezzonico', from the name of the noble Venetian family in whose palace it hung. The original model can still be admired in the Ca'Rezzonico in Venice today.
This same chandelier is still manufactured today in Murano and enjoys a worldwide popularity. It is entirely made by hand and its arms are formed out of multiple pieces of glass that have to be precisely shaped in order to fit into their position. It features multiple levels of elaborate floral elements, branches, cups and stems, frequently encrusted in gold and silver.
Light pieces are by far the most popular items in the Venetian glass catalog. Aside from the historical examples, Murano Glass chandeliers evolved with each decade to include sputnik chandeliers, examples with tubular and polyhedral glass prisms and artistically shaped glass pieces that can grace more modernist and contemporary tendencies.
Murano Glass table lamps have also risen in popularity among interior designers in recent years, due to their amazing translucent qualities and vivacious colors.
There is no better way to embolden your home with history and audacious color than to add a touch of Venetian Murano Glass.
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