What Is Glass?
Glass is a manmade material that is hard when finished. Source materials for making most types of glassware are silica, limestone, and soda ash. These are melted together in a special furnace at very high temperatures of about 1,600 Celsius (2,900 Fahrenheit). The mixture is then gradually cooled to achieve a hard state.
Where was Glass Invented?
First human-made glass we know of comes from the area of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt and was crafted in the 3rd millennium BCE. The oldest objects which survived to our days are glass beads. Scientists think that those were most likely accidentally created while making faience or metals.
What is Glass Made Of?
Glass is made from simple ingredients easily found in nature: sand (silica), crushed limestone, and soda ash (sodium carbonate, similar to baking soda). When glass was first made, ancient artisans obtained soda ash by burning wood and plants and using the ashes.
How Is Glass Made?
Since ancient times people have used multiple methods to make glassware. All of them included heating the main source ingredients, sand, soda, and limestone to very high temperatures. The earliest methods were melting in kilns and core-forming.
As glass masters turned to crafting decorative objects, new methods of glass-making were developed. In the 4th century BCE Syrians made glass using mold-shaping. Then Romans made it the cornerstone of their glassmaking industry in the 1st century CE. They created molds of various shapes with reliefs on the sides and blew glass into the mold to give it the predetermined shape and design.
Famous Italian Glass in Venice
Italian Glass started its history in ancient Rome, where the glass industry was split into glass-making and glass-forming. The former was creating chunks of glass in kilns from raw materials. The latter used these premade chunks to create objects by reheating them to achieve a malleable state.
Mold-blowing learned from the ancient Greeks was used by Romans early on in the 1st century CE, and later more complicated techniques were perfected, such as millefiori or murrina (mosaic glass).
The next stage of glass-making in Italy started after the fall of the Roman Empire in the Venetian Lagoon. Venetian Republic was created in the 8th century CE after refugees from the Roman Empire banded together and created a strong fishing and salt-trading community.
The first glass furnace discovered in the area also dates from that time. The historians agree that some of the refugees must have brought with them advanced glass-making skills because glassware was an important product in the Roman economy, and they put those skills to use in their new home.
The official history of Murano Glass – the most famous Italian Glass – starts in 1292 when the Venetian government issued a decree that all glassworks in Venice had to relocate to the Island of Murano in the Venetian Lagoon.
This created a unique situation where the concentration of skills and talent on a small island led to the rapid development of glassmaking techniques and the evolution of the craft. During the Renaissance interest in decorative glassware heightened and glass blowing on Murano island turned into a large and profitable industry, which survives to this day.
Italian Glass Manufacturers
The Italian Glass industry includes both mass-produced and hand-made glass. Italian hand-made glass crafted on Murano Island is the most famous art glass in the world. Therefore, the most prominent Italian glass manufacturers hail from Murano and include Barovier, Fratelli Toso, Salviati, Radi, and many others.
Angelo Barovier is known for discovering the secret to creation of transparent glass in the 15th century, which allowed for creation of mirrors, chandeliers, and more.
Fratelli Toso company was formed soon after the fall of Venice to Napoleon and helped sustain Italian glass-making in that difficult period. In 1864 they created a large Murano Glass chandelier for the Murano Glass Museum. They also rediscovered Millefiori glass and crafted many artistic Millefiori pieces.
Salviati was a lawyer by trade who decided to bring luster back into Murano glass-making. He opened glassworks in Venice and hired top artisans to craft glass mosaics. The aim was to restore darkened and dull ancient glass mosaics used inside San Marco Basilica.
This project was a raging success, which brought Venetian glass-making back into the limelight. Salviati’s company participated in the 1862 World Fair in London and commissions soon came in from Westminster Cathedral, Paris Opera, and other world-famous buildings.