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Murano Glass Glossary

Welcome to Fossilfly’s Murano Glass Glossary, where you can learn the “language” of Murano Glass! The words are rooted in Italian, but are infused with a special meaning when used to describe a glass making technique or process. The origin of some of the descriptive terms are sometimes uncertain, as there have been many cultural influences on the island’s language over time. Below are the most commonly encountered Murano glass terms out of possibly hundreds that have been used over the ages. We hope that you find this reference useful, and welcome any feedback you may have.

Avventuria Clear glass with metal flecks, often copper, to create a shimmery, metallic look. The process is aptly named, as it means “adventure” describing the difficulty of working with this process.

Battuto “Beaten” Similar to inciso, but with deeper and broader cuts, can look similar to stylized fish scales.

Corroso “Corrosive” A surface treatment in which the glass is etched by dunking the finished object into a vat of Hydroflouric acid. Masks of sawdust or paraffin are used to protect areas of the work that the artist does not want affected by the acid.

Cristallo A clear, highly malleable, colorless glass that can be blown into vessels with remarkably thin walls.

Filigrana A technique from the 1500′s used to make items with an opaque white or colored glass core. Specially designed glass rods are placed in a furnace lengthwise and fused together. After fusion, they are blown and shaped.  This technique has 3 additional patterns, depending on how the filaments are twisted and aligned. With mezza-filigrana, rods with one filament are used. a reticello is a diamond shaped pattern created by twisting two halves of an object in opposite directions while heating, distorting the straight lines of the filigrana rods, creating a diamond mesh pattern. a retortoli consists of 2 filaments twisted into a spiral.

A Ghiaccio “Ice”. Hot glass is submerged in cold water creating a finely crackled surface.

Incamiciato A multilayered glass technique. Colored or pasta vitrea glass is encased in a final cristallo or transparent colored layer. First developed in the 1920′s.

A Column in Murano

Inciso “Incision” A thin line scored into the glass by a grinding wheel.

Inclamo Fusing together many different colored glass pieces while pliable, and then forming them into a single object.

Iridato Glass which achieves a thin iridescent coating due to the exposure to the gaseous vapors of a metal, usually tin or titanium. Other metals which form an oxide on the surface of the hot glass can also be used.

Lattimo Opaque white or colored glass.

Massiccio A technique in which large or heavy objects are created without blowing because the molten glass is too heavy and dense. The glass is shaped, molded or formed while hot.

Millefiori “A thousand flowers” Lattimo glass decorated with murrine and often encased in a layer of clear or tinted glass. One of the oldest techniques that is still very popular today.

Murrine A glass technique first developed by the Romans and rediscovered in late 1800′s. Thin sections of glass rods are fused together and then blown, formed or molded into the desired shape. The rods are often designed to create a floral or geometric design. See our Murano Glass Pendants or Murano Glass Paperweights for examples. In addition, we also have a short article on how a Millefiori Pendant is made.

Pasta Vitrea A very difficult technique to master, in which a colored, opaque glass is made by adding clear or colored crystals to molten glass.

Pennelate A design created by fusing colored pieces of glass to the surface of a hot item being blown.

Pulegoso Clear glass containing innumerable bubbles (puleghe). The bubbles are created by adding kerosene to the hot glass, creating bubbles upon combustion.

Soffiati Mouth blown glass with classic lines and delicate colors.

Sommerso A technique used to create thick layered objects by repeatedly dipping a piece into various crucibles of molten glass to form a multi- layered or multi-hued effect.

Tessere Glass created by fusing together various pieces of glass of almost random shapes and sizes and then blown or worked.

Tessuto A multicolored, often striped glass made by fusing colored rods placed together in an alternating pattern and blown.

Trasparente colorato A clear glass similar to cristallo but with an added tint or color.

Velato Treating the surface of the glass with a grinding wheel, giving it a satin finish.

History of Murano 1920′s – Today

After the breakup, Venini started Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Venini & Co., and hired Napoleone Martinuzzi, a sculptor who was overseeing the Murano Glass Museum, to manage his new venture. Martinuzzi developed pulegoso technique, and in 1930, helped bring forth the controversial use of opaque glass, something never seen in the centuries of Murano glass craftsmanship. The use of opaque glass proved to be a watershed event, since it completely broke with tradition, allowing the artists to experiment with different creative ideas that would have been considered absurd a few years prior.

Giacomo Cappellin also opened a new furnace, Maestri Vetrai Muranesi Cappellin & Co., and retained Vittorio Zecchin as director. Vittorio Zecchin remained director at Maestri Vetrai Muranesi Cappellin & Co., until 1926 when an unknown architect, Carlo Scarpa, replaced him.

The first few years under Scarpa were heavily influenced by Zecchin’s designs, but Scarpa didn’t take long to find his muse and produced many high quality pieces which made use of forgotten techniques, bright colors and opaque glass. Although Cappellin & Co. was considered an exceptional furnace; it closed in 1932 due to fiscal mismanagement. In a stroke of good fortune for Paolo Venini, Martinuzzi’s departure from Venini in 1932 to form Zecchin-Martnuzzi glass with Francesco Zecchin allowed him to pick up Carlo Scarpa as art director, who was looking for work after the closing of Maestri Vetrai Muranesi Cappellin & Co. Scarpa’s innovative techniques flourished during his tenure at Venini & Co. In addition to creating new ways to work with molten glass such as sommersi, he also developed new surface treatments including a corrosi, battuto, a fasce and a pennellate. During these years, Paolo Venini also took more of an active role in the day to day operations of a glass house and began co-designing works with Scarpa.

After departing Venini in 1947, Carlo Scarpa returned to architecture, restoring the Castelvecchio in Verona to wide acclaim, before passing away in 1978. Also during the 1930′s another artist, Ercole Barovier rose to prominence in Murano after he and his brother, Nicolo took over the creative direction of Vetreria Artistica Barovier. In 1939, after the brothers went their separate ways, the company was renamed Barovier & Toso Co., after a merger with the Toso family, and remains so named to this day. Ercole Barovier was known for his work with a murrine and the creation of beautiful sculptured animals. He spent much of his time during the 30′s perfecting a technique he named colorazione a caldo senza fusione, and also created fresh pieces in the 40′s and 50′s using the tessere technique.

One of hundreds of gondolas and ancient ship replicas floating down Venice's Grand Canal, during the "Historical Regatta", which takes place every year on the first Sunday of September. In the background is the Basilica della Salute.

In 1996, The Barovier family was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest glass making family in the world.  Also during the 30′s Ermanno Toso changed the direction of Fratelli Toso, which had been founded in 1854 by his ancestors, from one of creating traditional Muranese objects to one of one of more modern tastes. Again, war threatened the glass masters in the 40′s but the industry managed to survive World War II and emerged post- war with pent up artistic energy, making the 1950′s some of the most creative and innovative years the island of Murano have ever seen. The filigrana technique was expanded and used to new effect by another Murano master, Archimede Seguso, who opened his own shop, Vetreria Archimede Seguso, in 1946. Today, the works created during this time are considered the most desirable by collectors.

Artists including Dino Martens, who brought traditional Venetian techniques to America, Flavio Poli and Fulvio Bianconi all began making unique, non-traditional works to express their creativity. Since the 1950′s the mastros in Venice have collaborated with artists worldwide, including Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and Jean Cocteau in addition to serving as a mentors to artists who started the American Studio Glass movement. A recent challenge to the Venetian glassblowers in the marketplace has been counterfeiting. Beginning in the 1990′s and continuing today, many of the classic vases, glassware and millefiore objects are being counterfeited in Asia, for sale overseas.

In September 2002, in response to this growing problem, Promovetro, the glassmaker’s consortium registered a Murano trademark with the European Union. The mark, a lilac colored sticker with a glassmaker’s cana de soffio (blowpipe) and the Italian inscription “Artistic Glass Murano” is printed on a film that is difficult to replicate or counterfeit.

Historical photo taken on the Grand Canal during the 1956 Historical Regatta. The ship in the foreground is carrying the banners of Italy's four old maritime republics, Genoa, Pisa, Palermo, and Venice. Photos © AP

History of Murano 1800′s – 1920′s

The emigration of talent had its effect on Venice’s preeminence in glassblowing. Other countries used the once secret knowledge divulged by the maestri of Murano to create their own styles and interpretations of glass. Bohemian crystal, thicker, heavier and often engraved, grew in popularity to the point of rivaling Murano glass’ popularity the century before. This change in taste towards a more robust glass and the fall and occupation of the Venetian Republic by Napoleon’s troops in 1797 combined with the subsequent abolishment of the Guild in 1805 precipitated a long lasting crisis in Venice.

The first half of the 19th century saw many Murano furnaces shuttered and its artists scattered throughout Europe. The surviving shops did not produce the beautiful works of art they had been known to make only a few decades earlier, rather; they were only making beads, small bottles and other trinkets needed for trade. This reversal of fortune lingered until the 1860′s, when Vincenzo Zanetti developed the Glass Museum of Murano, (in reality more of a school than a museum) and slowly began reintroducing lost glass blowing techniques.

During the same time, Antonio Salviati opened Salviati & Co. and began producing wonderful pieces that hadn’t been seen in 200 years. The artists at his furnace became so adept, they won numerous awards at the 1867 Universal Exposition in Paris. By the 1890′s glass making in Murano was showing signs of reinvigoration, and Salviati & Co. was bought by Barovier after Salviati’s death in 1890. Ironically, the rediscovery and utilization of a murrine, a glass working technique from Roman times, is partially responsible for restoring the Murano glass industry in the late 1800′s.

In 1896, the first Venice Biennale show opened, allowing Muranese masestri to meet, share ideas, and establish relationships with other like-minded artists from other nations. The results of this seminal meeting can still be seen today in the maestri’s close collaboration with artists worldwide. However, once again, the furnaces were confronted with stiff competition from foreign glassmakers including Tiffany and Lalique.

Around this time, the company Fratelli Toso was beginning to be recognized for its works with a murrine, but World War I interrupted the fledging recovery of Muranese craftsmanship, and it wasn’t until the 1920′s, three artists, Vittorio Zecchin, Paolo Venini, and Giacomo Cappellin began creating new works with simple lines, delicate colors and the thinnest of glass. One of the pivotal players in the modern Murano era is Paolo Venini. An unlikely candidate, an attorney with no experience in glassblowing, he was known for his willingness to collaborate with others in diverse fields, especially from the world of architecture. One of his greatest contributions to Murano in the 20th century was developing upcoming artists. The list of artists his company mentored over the years reads like a who’s who of the modern Venetian art world. In 1921, Paolo Venini teamed up with Giacomo Cappellin to establish a new company named V.S.M. Cappellin Venini & Co. Their pieces, created by Vittorio Zecchin, were immediately recognized to be exceptional works of craftsmanship combined with a delicate sophistication. However, the partnership didn’t last long, and they parted in 1925.

Murano: A quieter center for masterful Italian glass

Murano: A quieter center for masterful Italian glass

Atlanta Journal Constitution 9/16/04

Murano, Italy — Indoors, the master glassmakers practice their art before ovens heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius — 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit — deftly turning globs of molten glass into everything from small ornamental birds to museum-quality works of art. Outside, shops line the quiet canals that Murano uses for roadways. Boats bob beside the piers, water buses nose into docks to pick up passengers amid a sense of serenity and tradition. Many travelers are familiar with the charms of Venice, where buildings of spectacular and historic architecture rise out of the water to form one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But fewer know the allure of Murano, a peaceful, canal-laced city where the glassmakers’ art has flourished for centuries.

Murano lies just 40 minutes from central Venice by water bus — half that by water taxi. If it is less spectacular than Venice, it feels somehow more genuine. People actually live here. And it is free of the multinational gaggles of tourists bristling with cameras and clustering around tour guides that clog the walkways of its more famous neighbor. Tourists do not stumble on Murano by accident. But it is well worth taking the boat ride with the wind in your face and Venice at your back. Murano glass is justly famous.

The showrooms are stunning, stocked with glass peacocks, vases artfully swirled with color, faces, sculptures and even crystal chandeliers adorned with glass leaves and flowers that cost $50,000 or more. “That’s the Rolls-Royce or Ferrari of chandeliers,” Rossi said proudly. The comparison is apt. The key ingredient of Murano glass is not the silica sand, the soda ash or the red lead that are melted together to make it. Nor is the secret of its quality in the process, in which the materials are heated to 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,552 Fahrenheit) before being cooled to the 1,000 degrees that makes the molten glass pasty enough to be gathered in red-hot blobs on the glassmakers’ tools. It is in what happens next, in the artistry, the craftsmanship and the tradition. Most of the masters come from families of masters that stretch back five or six generations.

Most began at an early age and have committed themselves to the work all their lives. Some, like Guilano Tosi, have their creations on display in places like the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y. “The real Murano glass is very high quality,” said Maurizio Toso, Tosi’s cousin, who works with him on the island. The quality of the glass, he said, reflects “the quality of the makers.” A good quality of life is evident here, too. The pace is slow. People pass the time in cafes and sandwich nooks. The stores and showrooms are pressure free — not, Rossi noted, like shoe stores, where salesmen swarm over customers offering “help.”

Much of the business is done these days by mail or over the Internet anyway, but the beauty of Murano is not to be missed. Like Venice, which lies about a mile away across the water, Murano is composed of a cluster of small islands. About 7,000 people live here. It became the center of the glassmaking industry in 1291, supplanting Venice itself. Many of Venice’s buildings at that time were made of wood, and the risk of fire from the glassmakers’ ovens was deemed too great. Murano glass has been famous around the world since the 14th century. The masters became known for their bead-making skills and for the glass used in mirrors. The Murano Glass Museum offers a pleasant and informative way to while away an afternoon. Glass pieces in the museum, which was founded in 1861, date from as long ago as the first century A.D. On display are vases from the 15th century — some enameled, some with embedded designs — that are works of art. It is that tradition that today’s glassmakers sweating in front of their ovens strive to maintain.

Women in Murano

BBC Radio recently interviewed a few female glass artists and the challenges that they have faced in a traditionally male dominated field. 8 Minute audio clip.

Women in Murano