Venice’s longstanding tradition of glassmaking has continued throughout generations, and to this day, the Venetian island of Murano is still internationally renowned for its active involvement in the glassmaking industry. For this reason, artists with an interest in all things glass, will typically flock to Venice- and observe the work of famed Italian artisans who still reside in the stunning city in the Venetian lagoon.
Dale Chihuly is no exception. The American artist, who studied in prestigious institutions across the United States, embarked on a glass art pilgrimage in the late 1960s. After graduating from the Rhode Island Institute of Art, he traveled to Venice, in an effort to explore different glassmaking techniques. During this trip, he worked for the renowned Murano glass company Venini, in their world-renown Venetian factory.
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Venice is a small yet mighty island, detached from mainland Italy, and widely regarded by Italians as an entity of its own. Venetians have their own dialect, their own traditions and their own unique recipes that differ significantly from other regions in Northern Italy.
The main difference between Venetian cuisine and foods from other Italian regions is ingredients. As Venice is an island, with a history of isolation and conflict, the city was often deprived of certain ingredients that mainland Italy had easy access to. For this reason, Venice began their traditions by perusing local ingredients, readily available to humble families. These included fish, seafood, rice, and vegetables.
However, as Venice grew increasingly more wealthy, the city began to incorporate more luxurious ingredients into their recipes. Suddenly, humble and meager meals began to feature exotic ingredients. Venice began to import foods from other regions of the country, as well as other countries entirely, as part of a concerted effort to display their wealth in all available outlets, including through their food. As a result, Venetian cuisine is now regarded as a set of recipes unique to the region, that feature wonderful combinations of flavors and textures.
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While Venice is a beautiful and wonderfully diverse city, it’s also rather small. After a number of days spent wondering through the stunning corridors that crisscross the the city and admiring art, you may feel inclined to visit one of the smaller islands that surround Venice, such as Murano, Burano, or Torcello.
Of course we can’t be impartial when it comes to choosing a Venetian island to visit, and we wholeheartedly recommend Murano – the home of the most beautiful glassware in the world and the place to experience true Venetian lifestyle of the bygone era. Murano is a tiny island in the Venetian lagoon, just north of Venice proper. Renowned for its glassmaking tradition, the island boasts a population of 5,000 people, many of whom are direct descendants of famous glassmaking families.
The island is rich with culture and tradition, and was once used as a refuge for Venetian glass-makers, who were forced by governmental officials to leave the city of Venice in the 1291 and establish their furnaces on Murano. For lovers of art, history, fine craftsmanship, or simply for breathtaking views- Murano is definitely a location to consider. here we give you the scoop on the top 5 things to do on Murano island. And, what’s great, you can actually do all of this in one day and still have time left for a nice dinner either right here on Murano or in Venice, a short vaporetto ride away.
1. Take a Walk Around Town
The island of Murano consists of 7 individual islands linked together by beautiful bridges. While this sounds overwhelming, the whole island actually measures a mere 1 mile, which is easily walkable in 20 minutes.
Much like the city of Venice, Murano has a ‘Canale Grande’ (Grand Canal) that runs down the centre, and separates rows of mirrored buildings. The main and arguably most impressive building on the island is the municipal building, called ‘Palazzo Da Mula’. This dates back to the 13th century, and features a characteristically gothic facade, popular in Venetian architecture. The canals, coupled with the island’s three remaining churches, in addition to the beautiful buildings- are reasons enough to take a walking tour of Murano.
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Murano’s history is made by hundreds of talented and ingenious glass masters. Many of them attained prominence centuries ago, while others are still stunning the world with dazzling creations. Others have collaborated together to evolve the glass-making industry and bring it global fame, which it is still enjoying today. Each and every one of them, however, has contributed invaluably to Murano’s history and beauty, surprising admirers and collectors with new ideas, artistic boldness, and alluring designs. Such is the case of the Barbini family, who has been an important presence in Murano’s history since ages ago, and is still present in today’s picture.
The Barbini family goes back a long way. Their story in the Murano Glass industry can be traced back to the XVI century, when the family name was added to Venice’s Golden Book, a book known for containing the crème de la crème of Venetian noble families and the best glass masters, whose guild received special permission to be in the Book. Members of the Barbini family played active roles in Venice’s history for a long time, be it in politics, commerce, or different areas of glass production. Many of them became famous thanks to their beautiful Venetian mirrors, others thanks to their enamel glass, others still for making majestic chandeliers. Some members of the Barbini family even moved to abroad in order to create decorative glass exclusively for royal houses and the wealthiest foreign families. During the following centuries the Barbini family started counseling other glass masters, such as Pietro Bigaglia, the Briati family, the Bertolini brothers and Benetto Barbaria. All of them in turn went on to make significant contributions to Murano’s glass-blowing innovations and history.
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When talking about Murano’s history in glassmaking, it is natural to find only the best of the best glass masters working on these precious and unique designs. Some of these stories are full of unexpected surprises, stunning beginnings, and eminent success. Such is the case of Venini, one of Italy’s oldest and most renowned glass masters of all times.
Born in a small town near Milan in 1895, Paolo Venini studied to become a lawyer but would soon change course when he crossed paths with fellow Italian Giacomo Cappellin. In 1921, the two Italian entrepreneurs opened their first glass factory in Murano, naming it Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Cappellin Venini & C. A third associate, Andrea Rioda, would later join the team. The idea was to reopen Rioda’s glass factory and summon back all of the company’s former glassblowers, taking advantage of the firm’s long history and know-how. Unfortunately, their plans did not go accordingly due to Rioda’s departing before the beginning of production. The partnership further dissolved after Cappellin decided to part ways in 1925 in order to launch another firm, taking many glass masters with him along the way. Venini, however, managed to reposition himself as one of Murano’s leading glass masters, renaming his company Venini & C.
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When it comes to organizing a trip to Venice, the itineraries are full of famous attractions that appear on every travel advice web-site and every must-see list you will ever come across. Among those are The Doge’s palace, and Basilica San Marco, Accademia Gallery and Ca’ Rezzonico, The Campanile and The Astronomical Clock. Hunting for those top attractions, you will stand in lines for hours and run into crowds of tourists who are all hungry to see the same things you came to see. This may leave you aggravated, distressed, and wondering what you may have done better to have more authentic venetian experience. You need not worry – we will let you in on the hidden secrets, the activities that many miss, the attractions that are still relatively quiet, not overrun with tourists, and promise a wonderful authentic experience.
1. Get To Know Venice’s Craftsmanship: Gondola Building Workshop
Get to know one of the few remaining gondola yards in Venice. Just a few steps down the canal near the Accademia Bridge, one can find Venice’s only remaining original gondola-building and maintainance yard, the Squero San Trovaso workshop. Nowadays it works mainly as a maintenance and repair point, but during the 1600’s it was Venice’s busiest production point for the ten thousand gondolas that once traveled along its canals and into the Lagoon. The squero is not open to the public but if you visit during the working hours you can see the work from the outside, and it is a fascinating experience. Each gondola is made out of eight different types of wood, exactly as it was hundreds of years ago, and includes lots of exclusively carved elements. Because gondolas are still crafted in a traditional way, it takes over a month to build one, and it usually can be in service for about 15 years, after which it must be refinished and can last another ten years. There are woodcarving workshops that create various wooden parts for gondolas and are very interesting to visit to see this ancient craft in action. The workshop of Paolo Brandolisio a few steps behind Piazza San Marco is a great one to visit. There are several guided tours for visitors, like the two hour Oltrex tour starting from Riva degli Schiavoni, or the one day experience Venice for Children, that encompasses a whole seminar on gondola making and a tour on vaporetto through the Arsenale and the Naval Museum. After getting to know this craft better, one will never see a gondola the same way again, for they are unique custom made vessels with centuries of history and craftsmanship, and not one is identical to another.
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Venice is so incredibly romantic under the rain. Yet it is also true that it can be more difficult to wander through its streets when bad weather ruins your plans. Rains are frequent in the Fall and Winter, weather can turn quite cold from time to time, and aqua alta, or flood, can always happen, but the good thing is there are many attractions one can visit when the weather in Venice gets wet. Plus, there is nothing better than a good cup of Italian hot chocolate, or “cioccolata calda” to make bad weather much more bearable.
First of all, it is necessary to pack with rain in mind. When it rains, the streets get crowded by merchants selling knee-high boots and umbrellas, yet it is always best to travel with proper clothes (and enough pairs of shoes to have a dry one on hand). Most moving around in Venice is done by foot, so it is recommended to pack water-resistant clothes that keep you warm and comfortable. A strong umbrella is also a good choice, because it can get quite windy in the Venetian Lagoon during the colder times of the year (you will definitely notice it on board of water bus).
Aqua Alta is what Italians refer to when speaking of high water that floods the Saint Marc’s Square and neighboring alleys. To some visitors it may seem like a true Venetian adventure, but to locals it is a nightmare. If you want to experience this phenomenon and wonder through Saint Marc’s Square, you will find it is impossible to cross it by foot since the water can reach knee level. In these situation the city puts out special wooden runways that rise above the water, allowing people to walk across the piazza and reach the Basilica San Marco and the Doge’s Palace. Most businesses, however, will not be operating as usual since their owners will be busy getting the water out of their shops, trying to avoid the damage caused by it. Continue reading »
Examples of Murano Glass bullicante technique
The quality and tradition that characterize Murano’s finest glass furnaces have always been worthy of the highest appreciation. This prestige is due mostly to the glass masters’ hard work and dedication, which are the very core of Murano’s most famous trade. Glassmaking has been passed on from one generation to the next one, with constant innovations and timeless originality. The loyalty and respect with which this trade is treated is possibly the key to Murano’s success. Glass masters all over the island have always worked with endless vitality, and this creative vein is evident in every glass artwork that comes out of any furnace, with improved techniques and bewildering effects.
Always ahead of his time and anticipating any trend, Archimede Seguso was the perfect example of Murano’s best talent. Knowing how to interpret the world around him and always renewing and perfecting his production techniques, Seguso came up with one of the most astounding and marvelous of innovations, the bullicante technique.
The “bullicante” effect is amongst the most famous glass making techniques and it is seen quite often around the island of Murano. If you’ve had the fortune of strolling along the streets of Venice, you would have noticed beautiful glass pieces with small air bubbles trapped in the inside, possibly stopping to wonder how that seemingly impossible effect is achieved. This peculiar effect is obtained by placing a piece of molten glass inside a metallic mold with spikes, very much resembling a pineapple’s texture. These spikes cause small holes on the surface creating a pattern all around the glass piece. After it’s been left to cool down for a few moments, the whole piece is submerged in molten glass again. This second layer completely covers the first one. However, thanks to the thick consistency of glass, the holes previously impressed on the first layer are not covered, thus causing air to be trapped between both layers of glass. This process can be repeated several times, creating a pattern as complicated as the glass master wishes. This technique gives not only a sense of depth to the whole object, but also an incomparable decorative effect, famous for its originality.
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The glass production in Venice represents one of the most important and influencing factors of the city’s economy, and it is no secret that the best glass furnaces reside in Murano. When walking through the streets of Murano, it is almost impossible to name and enumerate all the intricate and complex techniques used in the production of these artworks. And if we were to enter a furnace and listen to the craftsmen talk, we would probably simply hear confusing words such as filigrana, retortoli, reticello, or spirale, without even knowing which technique is which. Every technique, tool, shape and type of glass has its name, quite distinct, and part of the glass masters’ vocabulary since almost a thousand years ago.
The most ancient piece of evidence documenting the existence of glass artworks dates back to the year 982, and thanks to this document, in 1982 the world celebrated a thousand years of Venetian glass artworks. Many other historic documents testify the work of furnaces along the Rio dei Vetrai river in Murano, where one can still find the finest and oldest furnaces in the city. In order to keep the industry’s secrets and glass masters from leaving, the Republic of Venice came up with several acknowledgements and distinctions to those who would create the finest and most creative of glass works. The Republic also protected some of the most important discoveries and innovations of those times, such as the “filigrana a retortoli” and “filigrana a reticello” that became famous around the sixteenth century.
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Glass making can be one of the most complex and mesmerizing crafts in the world. Since ancient times, glass has always enthralled people with its intricate forms and beautiful translucent colors. To achieve this, glass masters have worked tirelessly to develop and improve various techniques that have been passed from one generation to the other throughout the years.
When thinking of Murano glass, it is highly unlikely that we think of sand, yet this rare material is at the base of all glass production. Glass is firstly a mix of siliceous sand, soda, lime and potassium, which is put to melt inside an oven at a temperature of around 2,700 Fahrenheit. After it has become flexible enough, it is removed with a pipe that will be used to blow the glass out while the glassmaker shapes and models it. The forms and colors given to each piece depend on the tools and chemicals used during its production. The techniques are also important; since they define the way minerals will react when they come in contact with glass and the chromatic effects they will leave on each piece. The first glass works with relevant artistic techniques can be dated back to the Roman period, in which raw materials such as sea shells, ashes and sand were used in its fabrication. Nowadays, the glass masters of the Mediterranean have refined and improved each technique, mixing it with delicate craftsmanship and impeccable Italian style.
Murano Art Glass Angel Fish – Sommerso Swirls
One of the most common techniques is “Sommerso”, which in Italian literally means “submerged”. This technique is used to create several layers of glass (usually with different contrasting colors) inside a single object, giving the illusion of “immersed” colors that lay on top of each other without mixing. This is done by uniting different layers of glass through heat and repeatedly immersing them in pots of molten colored glass. This technique is quite recognizable: it is characterized by an outer layer of colorless glass and thick layers of colored glass inside it, as if a big drop of color had been captured inside the transparent glass. When one first sees these objects, it seems almost impossible to conceive such beautiful colors being locked so perfectly inside what would seem solid glass, and then undoubtedly one begins to wonder how ever did they manage to achieve such a complex game of shapes and colors right in the middle of a clear glass object.
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