From its utilitarian beginnings in Roman Empire in the first century B.C. through the masterpieces in the heyday of Renaissance all the way to the unique artistic bloom of today, Murano glass has a rich and turbulent history that is not widely known or appreciated outside of Venice. Seeing or holding a piece of Murano glass jewelry, a beautiful goblet, or an elaborate vase, many people don’t realize what it took for this unique art form to survive and last into the modern times.
In the dark barbarian ages that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, glass-making deteriorated and glass was no longer in common use, though it was still produced by the artisans in Byzantium, Syria and Egypt. Eventually people living around the Venetian Lagoon managed to re-discover the secrets of glass-making somewhere around the 10th century A.D. as mentioned in a historical document dating back to 982 AD which refers to a monk named Domenico, who was a fiolario or bottle blower.
The conquest of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade allowed Venetians to understand the glass-making methods of the local artisans, who kept alive the techniques and knowledge of the Roman masters. Over the following centuries Venetian glass artisans continued to build upon these foundations, coming up with new glass-blowing techniques, so that by 1255 the craft became important enough for the glassmakers’ guild to emerge in Venice. In 1292 all the glass craftsmen were moved to Murano by the order of Venetian government, where glass-making further flourished and many complex techniques were developed. thus, glass-making turned into an art form as evidenced by the multitude of beautiful ornate glass items from goblets to mirrors to chandeliers produced during Renaissance.
Starting in the 18th century Murano glass art experienced slow decline and eventual collapse when Venetian Republic fell in 1797. Virtually no glass-making activity took place in the next 30 years and many secrets of the craft were again lost in that time. Slow recovery started in the 1830’s but the glass makers did not enjoy the same fame as their predecessors, and appreciation of this ancient art did not return until the 20th century, when Murano glass masters started to mix the ancient techniques and contemporary art concepts resulting in beautiful works of glass art.
The history of Venetian glass making with its many ups and downs, and its latest revival due to the persistence and talent of the local masters is illustrated in the new exhibition in Venice’s famous Museo Correr. Organised chronologically in four sections, the exhibition contains over three hundred objects from the collection of the Murano Glass Museum, many of which have never been on display before. The exhibition runs from December 11th 2010 through April 25th 2011. We highly recommend visiting this exhibition if you are in Venice in this time period, so that you can appreciate not just the beauty of Venice but also the magic of glass that was born from this beauty, and the fight for survival of this ancient craft that has been going on for a thousand years.
To learn more about Murano glass history and techniques, please visit GlassOfVenice.com
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