Category Archives: Murano Glassmaking

Highlights Of The Murano Glass Museum

The Murano Glass Museum is a major tourist attraction on Venetian island of Murano, and one that uniquely represents the rich history of glassmaking present on the small Venetian island. Many tourists wish to visit the museum, and rightly so, as the large venue houses historical artifacts and beautiful displays that are unique to Murano.

There are both permanent and temporary exhibitions open to tourists, and those who purchase tickets are granted admission to the majority of the museum, including any special or seasonal shows. The museum was renovated recently, and the building itself is almost as beautiful as the treasures kept within it. Below, we detail some of the highlights of the Murano Glass Museum, that stand out amongst all of the stunning exhibitions.

Murano Glass Museum Permanent Exposition

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Dale Chihuly – American Vision of Murano Glass

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.

Chihuly Glass Flowers Ceiling
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The Great Murano Glass Masters: Alfredo Barbini

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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The Great Murano Glass Masters: Paolo Venini

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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Murano Glass Making Techniques: Bullicante

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.

Murano Glass Masters symbol - Peacock

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.

Murano Glass Bullicante Vase from GlassOfVenice

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Murano Glass Making Techniques: Filigrana, Reticello, Zanfirico and More

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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Murano Glass Making Techniques: Sommerso

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

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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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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Finally, a perfect way to learn about Murano glass and experience its magic!

Numerous times on various travel websites, forums, and blogs, including ours, travelers to Venice ask the question of whether and how to see a demo of Murano glass making without wasting precious time in Venice and experiencing an annoying sales pitch. GlassOfVenice is happy to report that finally there is a way for most people to learn more about this fascinating art and experience it first-hand in the studio of a famous Murano maestro at very reasonable cost and without being pushed into buying anything. This definitely makes it worthwhile to make a trip to Murano and see the world of artistic glass making with your own eyes.

The Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia and Murano Glass Museum (Museo del Vetro) together with Abate Zanetti Murano Glass School present GLASS IN ACTION, a comprehensive overview of the ages of Murano glass history. This one-of-a-kind begins with a guided tour of Murano Glass Museum, which has on display a unique and extensive collection of glassware from ancient Rome through Murano glass of the Renaissance period to modernity. After that it’s on to the Murano Glass School, for a glass working demonstration with an accomplished Murano glass maestro, and the viewing of a documentary film.

Use this unique opportunity to learn more about Murano glass at its birthplace and get enchanted by the birth of glass from the magic of fire and the skill of an artist. The cost of the entire program is just 15 euro per person, and it runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays. English tours start at 2:30pm at the Murano Glass Museum (Fondamenta Giustinian 8, 30121 Murano, Italy).

Learn more about this program at the Murano Glass Museum’s website.

Learn more about Murano glass and its history at GlassOfVenice – About Murano Glass

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Glass Jewelry: replacement for the ‘real stuff’ or a value in itself?

Time changes everything, including our perceptions of what is valuable. Modern jewelry made of glass is considered ‘costume’ jewelry, or a replacement of the ‘real thing’ – made of precious stones. But that was not always the case. When Egyptians buried their adored king Tutankhamun in 1323 BC, they buried him with two famous necklaces: “necklace of the sun”, created from glass beads mixed with those made from gold and carnelian, and the ‘vulture collar’, made of solid gold inlaid with pieces of multicolored glass.

History of glass jewelry is the history of glass making itself, since the early glass was used almost exclusively as body ornament. Although scientists cannot agree if the oldest glass beads were made in Egypt or Mesopotamia, the oldest beads discovered by archeologists were found in Egypt and date to 12,000BC. They were simple and fairly crude beads made of clay with glass glaze.

Ancient Egyptians valued glass and glass jewelry enough to decorate their pharaohs with it. There is no doubt that pharaohs could afford ‘the real thing’, but there is a dispute if Egyptians used glass jewelry because they valued it so highly, or because they wanted to cheat grave robbers. Considering how difficult glass making was at that time and how rare was the knowledge of glass making, it is not difficult to believe that the glass jewelry was considered to be in the same league as that made from precious stones.

Another reason to believe the value ancient Egyptians afforded to glass jewelry is the quality of the workmanship and artistry invested in making pieces that survived to this day. The necklaces in Tutankhamen’s tomb were made of solid gold and glass was placed instead of precious stones not because of their lack, but because of intrinsic value they afforded to glass in its own right.
Since both Egyptians and Phoenicians used glass beads for trade, they were soon found all over the world, and with them the knowledge of their manufacture. Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Bohemian, Chinese and Indian glass makers started producing high quality glass beads and other objects.

But, it was not until 14th century that murano glass bead-making reached its zenith in Murano, Italy. Murano glass artisans perfected the lampworking technique – glass rod heated with an oil lamp with a glass chimney. Molten glass was formed by blowing or shaping it with different tools and hand movements. Murano glass makers came up with a number of different bead making techniques that are today used all over the world. One of the most famous – millefiori, or thousand flowers – is today almost the synonym with murano glass bead making.

It is interesting that glass beads play important role in many cultures all over the world – from Africa to Borneo in Malaysia, but the glass beads for the tribal jewelry always had to be imported. Many Dayak ladies in Borneo are decorated with bead necklaces that have been in their family for generations, but the ladies would be very surprised to find out that the beads for them came very probably from Murano. And they are not the only ones: artisans all over the world importing famous murano glass beads and create unique glass jewelry according to their own artistic preferences and ideals. The world is becoming a very small place indeed.

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