Murano Glass Museum: the History Behind the Art

Nothing ever seems real in Venice: its beauty, its history, its art. That same feeling expands all the way over to the Island of Murano, a small island near Venice, easily reachable by vaporetto. Murano is just as rich in beauty and art; it offers the warmth and cheer one usually expects to find in small Italian towns. This island, however, possesses a very special spot that sets the place apart: Fondamenta Giustinian 8, Murano’s Glass Museum.

The palace, Palazzo Giustinian, originally built in Gothic style, was used as a residence for the bishops of Torcello, and was later acquired by the Bishop Marco Giustinian in 1659. The bishop brought many changes to the property, refurnishing and redecorating it with rich frescoes and paintings by Francesco Zugno and Francesco Zanchi.

The museum’s biggest treasure is its vast Murano Glass collection that keeps expanding thanks to constant addition of contemporary pieces. Gathering such a unique collection in one place would not have been possible without the initiative of Antonio Colleoni, then the mayor of Murano. Working together with Abbot Zanetti, Murano Glass and art enthusiast, they set out to gather and systematize Murano Glass archives detailing the history of the craft through the ages. In 1861 Colleoni opened the palace’s doors as a glass museum for the first time in 1861. It was in the grand salon where it all started – the history, the archive, the unveiling of this long forgotten art – later expanding to every room in the museum.

Colleoni’s idea was that of sharing, preserving and showcasing the fascinating art of Murano Glass. Not only did he want to communicate this idea to its visitors, but he also had in mind the creation of an archive, a chronicle that would document the history of glassmaking through the very same works of art. Thanks to this idea the museum started to take shape, buying exquisite pieces and receiving numerous donations from several glass furnaces on the Island. The museum helped this ancient form of art regain the recognition it had lost since the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, it gave artisans the opportunity to find new meaning in their work and to reclaim their craft.

Murano Glass Museum
As artisans and art connoisseurs appreciated the significance of Murano Glass museum, Abbot Zanetti added a teaching and apprenticeship program to the museum in 1862. In his one-of-a-kind school he passed on the techniques of Murano glass-making, encouraging craftsmen to create new designs and teaching pupils how to preserve and protect older pieces. Thanks to Zanetti and Colleoni, the Glass Museum expanded its collection and cultivated this historic art. In 1932 Murano was formally added to the City of Venice, which turned out to be a benefit for the museum, for it helped enlarge its collection with even richer artworks and increased funding, making the museum a significant tourist attraction. The latest additions came from excavations, Venetian civic collections, and Renaissance archives.

Making of Murano GlassA unique journey of Murano Glass Art illustrates the perseverance and talent of people and the continuity of tradition and history, a treasured lesson not to be forgotten. That is why visitors can find a very detailed timeline just at the entrance of the museum. It is a tribute to the evolution of glass-making in Murano, the fundamental changes that defined the island’s essence and that of its craftsmen.

The narrative of glassmaking in Murano starts on the first floor, with a selection of over fifty glass pieces echoing the chronicles of the before-mentioned timeline; it is the core of the museum carefully represented through the most important objects all gathered here. The second floor tells a more chronological story, where the Grand Salon is regally ornamented with three gigantic glass chandeliers hanging from the exquisite frescoes on the ceiling. It starts with “The Origins”, showcasing glass artworks from the early medieval years, continuing on to the second and largest room of all: The Golden Age.

The second room encloses Murano’s highest point through the 1400’s, when the Islamic glass production suffered a crisis, and Murano’s crystal clear glass was all the rage, gaining recognition throughout the world and laying the foundation for modern glass art and glass industry. From here on, the museum splits its rooms into many different trends famous in the industry. Mirrors, opaque glass, engravings, Millefiori, and even the world-renown Venetian beads, they have all been trends and discoveries in the history of glass making.

This art, still alive and influential, continues to spur new initiatives and modern variations, all ready to be showcased in this museum. From the guided demonstrations of glass working at the Abate Zanetti glass-making school (Scuola del Vetro Abate Zanetti), to the most skillful artisans competing for the best design, the Murano Glass Museum is always full of live. Young people are inevitably attracted to such inventiveness, like the time in 1998 when the museum gave them the opportunity to work alongside expert glassmakers, repeating the experience year after year due to its success, and thus resulting in the creation of a unique collection of works of glass art mixing experience with fresh thinking.

While not as widely known outside of Italy, Murano is just as rich in art and beauty as Venice itself, and the Glass Museum pays homage to Murano and its primary craft with frequent special exhibitions. In December 2011, the museum celebrated its 150 years of history, remembering the story of the Bishop of Torcello who opened the palace’s door to the public in 1861. It revealed over 200 works of art that highlighted the uniqueness and brilliance of this artistry, a presentation in honor of Murano Glass: “Un’isola, Un’arte, Un museo” (“An island, An art, A museum”) After its closure for renovation, the Glass Museum reopened its doors this past February, delightfully showing a wider exhibition space, totally renovated installations and a completely new and dynamic curatorial principle, always welcoming new additions to its archive. It is no surprise that the museum evolved into what is now one of the most complete Murano Glass collections in the world.

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The Great Murano Glass Masters: Archimede Seguso

Vetreria Seguso
Murano Glass is an art, and like any other art form it has its famous geniuses, the real artists who had talent, vision, and persistence to move it forward. In the thousand years of its existence, Murano Glass evolved from the humble beginnings of crammed Murano Island workshops of the middle ages to the international fame it enjoys today. Many famous Murano Glass artists brought about this evolution, but one of the top names and the real revolutionary in the conservative world of Murano Glass was Archimede Seguso.Have you ever found yourself gazing at the gorgeous window displays of numerous Murano Glass stores in Venice amazed at the infinite possibilities of colors and forms, and wondering about the masters behind them? Lots of Murano Glass artisans work on the Island today and many family workshops have been proudly making Murano Glass for generations, yet none is as famous as Seguso. Behind Seguso label, lays one of Venice’s most marvelous and dazzling stories. This family name conceals secrets to masterful skills, inimitable talent and transcendent works of art. It all started with Archimede Seguso, born on the island of Murano, in 1909.Shy, brilliant and quite distinguished, Archimede Seguso was a man of intellect, yet at the same time, he used the art of glass making to express himself. Never following any model or predefined idea, Seguso would come up with different methods and techniques never seen before in glass making. It was this boldness mixed with his genius that positioned him as a reference point for other artists and artisans.

With a rather solid history in Murano, the Seguso family had lived and worked on this Venetian island for over 650 years, gaining popularity throughout time for their special glass making methods. They were considered experts thanks to their glass blowing technique, and young Archimede became familiar with the business at the very tender age of 11. He was put to work alongside experienced masters who taught him complex skills, and by the age of 17 he became a master and a partner in the furnace he worked in. The Soffieria Barovier Seguso & Ferro became Seguso Vetri d’Arte in 1933, marking great progress and innovations in the glass making industry, thanks as well to the collaboration of artistic directors Flavio Poli and Vittorio Zecchin. With the creative help of Poli and Zecchin, Seguso started concentrating on his love for massive sculpture, no easy fit due to the special skills and abilities required in creating and handling heavy glass. His interest in art through Murano Glass got him nothing less than a righteous place in the post-war Venice Biennale.

By 1946, Archimede had achieved total freedom and maturity in the artistic field, and therefore decided to open his own workshop, Vetreria Seguso Archimede. This new atelier would see his new creations flourish and thrive: his delicate “filigrane”, the famous “piume” and “merletti”, his vases and his countless chandeliers. It was in this atelier that Seguso became one of the finest Venetian glassblowers in the world.

Seguso started conquering the world with his highly demanded glass chandeliers. He decorated cinemas, churches and theatres with beautiful exquisite Murano Glass. He also experimented with a new technique called “Sommerso”, which means “submerged”, and with this he created the most extravagant pieces mixing colors in different orders and arranging them one on top of the other. Then came his vases full of little “merletti”, or rather small floating color threads which defied traditional designs by being set inside the glass rather than on top, thus creating a web-like design similar to filigree. Archimede’s vases were also famous for their geometric Losanghe designs.

Seguso changed the industry of glass making with his bold and courageous inventions, full of creativity and elegance. He became known for his wide collection of animal figurines made of Alabastro Glass, Millefiori Glass, or featuring gold leaf decoration. Archimede dared defy and improve ancient glassmaking traditions by using incandescent glass and creating each piece by blowing into iron canes. He was a genius when it came to regulating colors and nuances by the thickness of the glass, and mixing materials and tools to create mind-blowing masterpieces. He managed tools and old techniques so well he created textures and illusions like no one else before him. He mixed gold dust and created “golden ivory”, “amber green spots” and “golden coral” works. No need to wonder why Murano Glass collectors all over the world covet his pieces at any cost. His secrets and know-how were shared with his sons when the eldest one, Gino Seguso, joined the atelier in 1959, followed by Giampaolo Seguso in 1964. This gave Archimede time to redirect his love of art to massive sculptures, taking them to exhibitions all around the world, from Palazzo Grassi in Venice to Tiffany & Co. in New York.

Archimede Seguso Label
During the last years of his life, his focus turned to color, exploring the multitude of color nuances and the infinite possibilities of combining color and light, specifically he created a series of his famous “Fenice” (or Phenix) vases referring to the tragic Venetian fire. His long years of research and innovation were passed on to his family, who cherish and keep alive his numerous secrets and masterful techniques. Archimede Seguso peacefully passed away in 1999, leaving a rich and strong legacy behind him. People close to him remember him the way he was: a tranquil man sitting by the furnace, happy and contented with his great life. The artworks and knowledge he left behind are proof of his bold ideas of beauty, creativity and functionality.Nowadays his grandson Antonio, who now runs the Vetreria Artistica Archimede Seguso, continues to honor his grandfather’s virtuous talents while also owning the whole company’s glass collection. Archimede’s love for Murano Glass is also kept alive thanks to the many craftsmen who incorporate his very essence into every piece they make: the creativity, the boldness, the grace, and the elegance. From the Venice Biennale, to the Triennale in Milan, to the Palazzo Ducale and the Murano Glass Museum, his artworks can still be appreciated by many. Churches, theaters and museums proudly preserve his memory – full of intricate chandeliers and vases – documenting a piece of Murano’s history and bewildering the world with it. It’s no surprise that historian Giuseppe Kappa named Archimede Seguso the “living encyclopedia of glass”.
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Venice and The Lion of St. Mark: History, Mystery, and Glory

Donato Veneziano Painting Winged Lion inside Doges Palace
Everyone who visits Venice can’t help but notice the city’s special relationship with lions. In Venice lions are everywhere: on pedestals, on walls, on paintings inside Venice’s museums and churches, and even on door bells of apartment buildings. With wings and without, resting upon a book, or standing proudly on pedestals, lions seem to at once own and protect this magical city. So what is the nature of Venice’s special relationship with this mighty animal and why has Venice for centuries been inseparable from the image of a winged lion?The answer goes deep into the ancient history, all the way to the ninth century, to be exact. Having grown and developed mighty military and economic presence on the Mediterranean, by the ninth century Venice sought to establish itself as a significant regional power that would be recognized as such by neighbors close and far. Back in those days that meant boasting not just military and economic but also religious significance, giving the government additional legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens, friends, and enemies. To help with that mission, two Venetian merchants named Buono and Rustico developed a bold plan to steal the body of St. Mark from largely Muslim Egypt, where it was resting in one of Alexandria’s churches, and secretly bring it to Venice. Continue reading »
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Mother’s Day Special: A Little About Italian Moms

Mother's Day in ItalyMother’s Day is an important holiday, a day we take to express our love and make our moms feel extra-special, showering them with attention as well as gifts and treats. Mother’s Day is celebrated not only in the U.S. but all over the world, and of course Italy is no exception. Today we are going to shed a little light on what makes Italian moms and women in general so special (at least in the minds of Italians), and what role Italian moms play in the family as well as society.

If you ever visited Italian playgrounds on a weekend you would have noticed that mostly dads are there playing with kids, while moms are often chatting with their girlfriends on the side. This is not because Italian moms are too lazy to play with kids. In fact many of them dedicate all their time to kids and family, which is why every day off that dads get they often spend with their kids. Despite changing times, now like in the past, many Italian women with kids do not work outside the home. Nursery schools and kindergartens close around 1pm, while school day is over at 4pm, making it very challenging for Italian moms to do full time work outside the home. So moms care for the kids, but the term “care” doesn’t even begin to describe the commitment of moms to their kids.
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What NOT To Do in Venice – Top Five Tips for Better Travel

Venice is a gorgeous city, but to feel its beauty among the crowds which fill Venice from April to October is not an easy task. The Venetians, whose number is dropping every year, also get tired of the crowds and can sometimes be a little grumpy or impatient, not to mention the high prices they tend to charge in restaurants, bars, stores, and hotels. Therefore, to have a good time when visiting Venice and to leave with nothing but the best impressions you would need to do your research and prepare for the trip ahead of time. There are tons of resources on- and off-line on visiting Venice, but most of them focus on the things you need to do in the city. We, on the other hand, decided to give you a no-less-useful guide on what NOT to do in Venice. Read our tips, memorize them, and you will surely avoid more than a few pitfalls that await a clueless visitor to Venice.

1. Do not spend your hard-earned cash on a Gondola trip

Gondola in Venice, Italy
Sure, the gondolas are beautiful, romantic and one of the top things we associate with Venice. So why not have a great $100 trip along the canals (of course, if you can afford it)? Well, in the recent decades gondolas have become extremely commercialized. While there is still no better way of seeing Venice than from water, spending so much cash on gondolas is simply not the best idea. Oftentimes the gondoliers are not the smiling easy-going types you have imagined. They may not have the best voices and if they sing you something it’s likely not a local Venetian song but rather a famous Neapolitan cliché like “O Sole Mio”. The gondolas nowadays are packed with camera-toting foreign tourists, not the romantic lovers of the bygone days. A fairly short trip along the canals, a large part of which will be spent getting out of multiple gondola traffic jams, will cost you no less than $80 during the day and even more in the evening. The gondolier will likely only tell you a couple of words about some of the most famous buildings, nothing that could amount to a “tour” they may have sold you.

Instead, go to one of several Traghetto stops and cross the Grand Canal in an authentic Venetian Gondola for mere pennies! Traghetto is a no-frills real gondola that carries passengers between the picturesque banks of the Grand Canal in places where there are no bridges. It’s the transport frequently used by Venetians who often catch a traghetto to do their daily shopping or return home with the bags of produce. Venetians typically stand in the traghetto, but you can sit and take in the gorgeous sights – no one will frown. The best routes are between the Fish Market near Rialto to Santa Sofia and from Punta della Dogana to Piazza San Marco. Continue reading »

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Venice Carnival – A Chance to See Venice of the Centuries Past

Venetian Carnival - Masked Revelers

Carnivals are costumed festivities which bring together the traditions of dress-up, masquerades, colorful fairs, and street performances. Many countries, regions and towns traditionally have held carnivals right before Christian Lent. Translated from Latin, the word Carnival itself actually means “farewell to meat”. While the roots of Christian carnivals go back to the pagan traditions of Roman Empire, the first carnivals associated with Christianity appeared in various European towns around the IX century AD.

The first mention of the Carnival in Venice dates to year 1094 AD. Most likely Venetian Carnival became an annual event after 1162, the year when people gathered in Venice’s St. Mark’s square to celebrate victory in the war with Aquilea by dancing, singing, eating and drinking.

Venetian Carnival - Flight of an Angel

The most famous accessory of the Venetian Carnival is, of course, the mask, so you may be surprised to learn that no masks were actually worn during Carnivals until XIII to XIV century. The creation of an authentic Venetian mask is an ancient and complicated process. The gypsum form is filled with a layer of papier-mache made using a special recipe. The resulting form is set aside to dry, then polished and the holes are cut through for the eyes. A layer of paint is then often used to make the masks look antique. The last stage of mask creation is decorating – a slow and elaborate process with use of acrylic paints, real gold and silver foils, enamel, expensive fabrics, Swarovski crystals, plumes, beads and various other elements limited only by the fantasy and talent of the artist who creates the mask. Continue reading »

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Quick Guide to Buying Authentic Murano Glass

Murano Glass is beautiful and unique with hundreds of years of artistic tradition behind it. Venetian masters learned from the ancient Roman artifacts and from Byzantine and Egyptian artisans to create masterpieces of blown glass using many different complicated and labor-intensive techniques, such as Millefiori, Sommerso, Bullicante, Filligrana, Lattimo, and others. Unfortunately as Murano Glass masters became famous beyond Venice so spread the fakes. Known as “A la façon de Venise” (or “in Venetian fashion”) glass pieces imitating Murano were made as early as the 16th century in Netherlands, England, France and later Bohemia and other parts of Europe. The very latest fakes are now coming from Asia, China in particular, and flooding the market to the extent that real authentic Murano pieces become harder and harder to find.

We at GlassOfVenice.com love Venice and support Venetian artisans, many of whom come from the long lineage of Murano glass maestros going back to the Middle Ages. Authentic Murano Glass still trumps all the fakes with its exquisite craftsmanship, gorgeous colors and amazing designs that Italian artisans are well known for. Here is our exclusive quick guide to how to avoid being cheated and always select genuine Murano Glass handcrafted in Venice. Murano stands for more than fine craftsmanship – it’s art, tradition, Venetian memories, and rich cultural and artistic heritage of La Serenissima. Get a real piece of Murano Glass – you’ll be glad you did!

Murano Glass Guide - How to Buy Authentic Murano Glass

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10 Best Tips for Travel to Italy

The best of Italy - Top Ten Travel Tips

Italy is one of the top countries on every traveler’s bucket list, with over 46 million tourists visiting every year! This is no surprise – with it’s winning mix of history, culture, architecture, natural beauty, cuisine, art and fashion, Italy attracts people with all sorts of interests, from all walks of life. Yet with Italy’s incredible multitude of options comes a challenge – how to balance the different kinds of experiences to make your visit the best it can be? We at GlassOfVenice.com have spent considerable time in Italy, both on our regular merchandising visits and, for some of us, living there. So we decided to compile our ten best Italian travel tips to help all who are interested in Italy to get the most out of their next visit. We hope you will find our advises helpful – please comment and share away!

1. Do not try to cover too much ground in a short time

Italy Tourism

Italy is famous for its cultural and artistic treasures, rich history, natural beauty, great food, fine wines, top fashion and too many other things to list on one page. It is also a big country that consists of multiple regions, each with its own history, culture, and cuisine. So it’s no wonder that Italy is high on the list of every tourist’s “must-see” places and that once there, visitors try to do it all, often in relatively short amount of time. If you are like most tourists and only have one or two weeks at a time to spare, we urge you not to make a mistake of checking off boxes on the “been there done that” list and rushing from city to city and from attraction to attraction. Instead, choose one or two regions, pick just a few towns, spend a few days in each place, take it in, feel its spirit, and resolve to come back later to see more of Italy. Trying to cover a few key cities, such as Venice, Florence and Rome in the first visit is another popular strategy, but you need to be mindful of the time it takes to travel between them and understand that each one is a multifaceted cultural gem that needs several full days to be explored, although even in that time you will only scratch the surface.
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Murano Glass Inspiration for American Artists

dale chihuly garden glassMurano Island in Venice is world-renown for amazing art glass that has evolved from its humble utilitarian beginnings into an art form over the centuries. Part of the reason is the sheer concentration of glass furnaces on the island and the length of time that the artisans have been experimenting and creating, leading to virtuosity in techniques and styles. One of the most famous and oldest glassworks on Murano is Venini, the family that has given the world generations of talented Murano Glass artists. The surprising part, however, is that in the twentieth century Venini glassworks helped create a new breed of masterful and innovative artists, those that were born outside of Murano and even Italy.

In breaking with Murano’s long-standing tradition of shielding the glassmakers’ world from the outsiders, Venini started serving as a learning site for American artists eager to learn the secrets of Murano Glass masters. Over the years, the Venini glass factories have hosted American-born talents such as Thomas Stearns, Dale Chihuly, and Richard Marquis, all of whom ultimately helped expand Murano’s fame far beyond Italy. These prominent artists have traveled to Murano on the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship and were fascinated by the medium of glass and the artistic possibilities it offered.. However, although they share a country of origin and a common passion which expanded the boundaries of glass work, they are as different and unique as the handmade glass pieces they produce. Continue reading »

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Exhibition Presents Murano Glass Art by Giampaolo Seguso

It is rare to see the very best of artistic Murano Glass created by prominent Venetian artists outside of Venice, let alone in the United States. For a short time this May and June all lovers and collectors of Murano Glass in the United States can enjoy a wonderful exhibition of Murano Glass Art at Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut. The exhibition features 33 beautiful glass art pieces by Giampaolo Seguso, a member of the renowned Seguso dynasty—a family which has been crafting glass on the island of Murano for over 600 years! The legacy of glass work goes back twenty-two generations in the Seguso family, and has garnered them international acclaim.

The pieces on display are each accompanied by a poem by Giampaolo Seguso himself, which reflects of the meaning of existence, nature, and beauty, merging together Seguso’s gifts for visual, as well as verbal arts. It is so rare to capture beauty in one medium, but Seguso ambitiously endeavors to capture it doubly, creating something new and profound. The name of the exhibition, La Ragnatela, is Italian for “spider web,” referring to Filigrana technique of glass-making invented on Murano in the 16th century. This complex technique uses glass canes that are positioned parallel to each other and then melted together so as to create delicate spiral or web-like patterns within the glass. Seguso was so enchanted by the endless artistic possibilities offered by Filigrana technique that he authored the book, La Ragnatela, published in 2001, which is the culmination of his research and personal application of the Murano Filigrana technique. Like all in-demand artists, Giampaolo Seguso and his art have traveled the world, holding exhibitions in Norway, Germany, and Brazil.

La Ragnatela presentation can be visited at the Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut. This exquisite exhibition opened its doors on April 10th and will continue to wow the collectors and those interested in Murano Glass until June 13, 2014, so make plans to see it soon.

by Kevin Grinberg

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