GLASS in ACTION – Guided tour in Murano

Interested in a guided tour of Murano?  On Tuesdays and Thursdays the Glass Museum in Murano is offering a guided tour, aptly named “from the Museum to the Furnace“.  The package  consists of a  guided tour of the Murano Glass Museum, followed by a glass blowing demonstration at the renowned Scuola del Vetro Abate Zanetti for only 15 euro!

For more information call  84 80 82 000; from abroad +39 041 42730892 or  email

Visit the livinginveniceblog for a more detailed writeup.


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The man who gives glass class

The man who gives glass class
Shanghai Daily News
March 30, 2005

The glory of the restoration of the historic building of Bund 18 is in the way the glassmaker’s art has been applied throughout the renovation.
Zhao Feifei talks with the architect responsible for the transformation.
From the moment you step into the entrance of Bund 18 — an iconic building of the Shanghai jazz scene back in the 1930s — the first thing to catch the eye is the beautiful three-meter-high red chandelier in the foyer. This extravagant fixture was created by the building’s restorer, Filippo Gabbiani, in his workshop back in Venice.
“It took several glassmaking artisans to blow it into shape,” says Gabbiani proudly. He’s the chief architect of Kokaistudios who renovated Bund 18 and also a descendant of the Gabbiani family of glassmaking craftsmen. “The amazing thing is that it weighs only 100 kilograms. Venetian people have a special way to make glass light and transparent.” And his skills are not only on the ground floor of Bund 18 — the decor of Bar Rouge on the 7th floor features 22 small red chandeliers and they blend in a romantic way into the ambience of the top floor of the historic building. To display his own fascination and pride in Venetian glassmaking, Gabbiani has opened a posh boutique on the second floor. Gabbiani glass carries on the age-old special technique of earlier centuries.

Each piece is painstakingly handmade by masters in Murano, an island near Venice, incorporating a variety of styles ranging from reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century Venetian pieces to modern and original designs. Meticulously crafted vases and vessels, decanters and goblets, paperweights, lamps and even jewelry are displayed.

Many of them are limited-edition pieces. The price of a vase can vary from 4,000 yuan (US$480) to 20,000 yuan. “Not everybody understands glass, so I show it as if it were jewelry or a painting,” says the 36-year-old designer. “I like my customers to appreciate glass the way they would if visiting a museum or an art gallery.” The store is Gabbiani’s first in Asia. His showroom in Italy is near the 15th-century Palazzo Bragadin, which is the ancient location of the home of the legendary merchant Marco Polo’s family. “At the age of seven, I read a book of Marco Polo’s travels in China. From then on, I started dreaming about this ancient country,” he says.

In 1991, Gabbiani arrived in China. He rode on bicycle, horseback, went by boat across the desert in Inner Mongolia, the mountains of Tibet and the rivers of Yunnan Province. This trip reinforced Gabbiani’s dream and desire to live and work in China. He quit several projects back home and moved to China. His first job was in southern China’s Guangdong Province, on an architectural planning project for a lifestyle building complex owned by a Hong Kong developer. After that, he landed the job to restore Bund 18 to its former glory. The Gabbiani family history covers generations of artists, painters, sculptors and art dealers over several centuries. The family operates art galleries in Paris, London and New York. “My mother started to make glass 30 years ago and my grandfather, who is a famous watercolor painter, also made glass,” says Gabbiani.

Now in Murano, Gabbiani family has a team of about 50 glassmaking artisans working for the company. “Venice still harbors ancient glassmaking secrets,” says Gabbiani. “Glassmaking traditions pass from father to son, from master to apprentice. Competition is fierce. The industry is of such importance that, in the past, a traitorous glassblower who revealed his secrets would be punished by exile or even death.” Italian glass craftsmanship is famous worldwide. Venice is crammed with glass shops and it’s estimated that there are at least 1,000 in San Marco alone. Murano has always been a secretive island and although it’s only a five-minute vaporetto ride from the center of Venice, it’s mysterious even to Venetians. A major glass center throughout the centuries, Murano has more than 250 glass furnaces, many of them operated by two to five artisans. Fewer than 20 furnaces have more than 50 employees. Today, the process remains much the same except that the furnaces are heated by natural gas, not wood, and the ingredients come from different localities. The tools themselves have been unchanged for centuries, dating back to the Middle Ages.

Glassblowing in Murano is usually more expensive than Chinese, Czech or Indian. It’s partly because the Venetians were the first to produce clear glass and the Venetians, being master traders, sold the glass around the world from the days of Marco Polo. The style and artistry of Venetian glass has continued to maintain its value and reputation throughout the world. “In 1291, fear of fire moved Venetian glassmaking to this island, where many of the factories remain today,” says Gabbiani. During the era of the Venetian Republic, the Doge of Venice granted special privileges to the Muranesi. They had their own “Golden Book” which listed the most important families, creating a local hierarchy which still exists — unofficially — today. Keeping the glassmakers cloistered on an island, swearing them to secrecy and showering them with riches and titles of nobility practically guaranteed the Venetians control of the marketplace.

The art of glassmaking is nearly as old as the Pyramids of Egypt dating back about 3,500 years. The art of blowing glass is more recent and began some 2,000 years ago. Over the centuries, the secrets of glassmaking — what ingredients to mix together and in what quantities — have been lost and rediscovered. Venice’s best-known glass has a distinctive swirl pattern in several colors. “There are mainly two types of glass in the world: crystal, which is heavy and very difficult to give color, and Venetian glass, which is light and transparent. Red glass is the most expensive. That’s because when you make it, a lot of glass has to be thrown away,” explains Gabbiani.

Article ©

Full-blown Excellence

Full-blown excellence

December 18, 2004
Ann Arbor News Bureau

For more than 700 years the island of Murano has been the center of Venetian glassmaking, supplying splendid, decorative and functional items to connoisseurs worldwide. But operations on the storied island have not always been calm or smooth.
Indeed, by the beginning of the 20th century, years of repeating traditional forms had caused the quality and popularity of Murano’s blown glass to decline. Then, a succession of innovative glass blowers propitiously reinvigorated the waning art, challenging tradition with inventive techniques and concessions to contemporary styles and tastes. By the 1950s, Murano glass had redoubled its original excellence and cachet. The century of rebirth is the time frame represented in “Murano: Glass from the Olnick Spanu Collection,” at the Detroit Institute of Arts through Feb. 27. Comprising glass treasures amassed by New York collectors Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu, the traveling exhibit includes some 200 items by 40 artists.
On view are vases, bowls, goblets and stoppered decanters whose gem-bright colors often appear as spirals or patches in contrasting hues. Alternately transparent and opaque, the disparate items have simple geometric or organic shapes, and sometimes are patterned or textured in relief. Lighted showcases set off the glass objects advantageously.

Among the 20th-century innovators represented are the manufacturers Paolo Venini and Giacomo Cappellin, who established a successful partnership in 1921, but four years later parted ways to establish independent glassworks (the still-flourishing Venini firm has sponsored the current exhibit’s tour). The list of inventive glass artists includes Giuseppe Barovier, Napoleone Martinuzzi and Carlo Scarpa.

Barovier’s circa 1919 “Mosaic Vase” is at once visually stunning and instructive, demonstrating how the artist updated an age-old technique. The surface of the vase is patterned with repeated spirals – most are yellow – created by the “a murrine” technique. According to it, slices of glass rods are embedded in the surface of a vessel, producing geometric or blossom-like motifs. Though developed in ancient Rome, the technique imbues the “Mosaic Vase” with modern air – that of art nouveau as expressed in the decorative, patterned painting of Gustav Klimt.
Martinuzzi’s “Ten-Handled Vase” of 1930 illustrates another form of experimentation. The dark green vase is matte-textured and has a grainy, irregular surface, attained by adding petroleum to molten glass. The bubbling action caused by the petroleum explains the descriptive term “pulegoso,” meaning pock-marked, applied to the glass.

Scarpa, one of the most important glass artists of the 20th century, is well represented in the exhibit. In particular, Scarpa is known for roughing up surfaces by etching or treating them with corrosive chemicals. His works also are known for their simple, geometric shapes, although his delightful “Seashells” of 1942 draw inspiration from the natural world.
Noteworthy, too, are Fulvio Bianconi’s and Paolo Venini’s “Handkerchief Vases” of 1950. These ethereal-appearing creations initially were molten-glass discs that, upended, gravitated to earth in folds evoking sheer cloth.
Viewers may recognize affinities between the “Handkerchief Vases” and the more recent work of American glass artist Dale Chihuly. That’s appropriate since, like many international artists, Chihuly studied and worked in Murano’s glass factories.
Murano’s artistic tradition continues then, in countries all over the globe. Viewers are privileged to see, showcased, the 20th century innovations that rejuvenated Venetian glass art.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is at 5200 Woodward Ave. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. For more information, call (313) 833-7900 or access,

Article © 2004 Ann Arbor News.

Murano: Where Innovation and Craft Meet

Murano: Where Innovation and Craft Meet
Collection of glassworks from legendary Venetian island illuminate the Detroit Institute of Arts with exhibition.
By Janet Bellotto
Tandem 12/5/04-12-12/04

The small island of Murano, just a vaporetto ride from Venice, opens up to creations using a magical medium that’s hot, gorgeous and at times very fragile – that’s Murano glass. It is a production place that flourished at the end of the 13th century and has developed with innovation between designers and craftsmen. Red Hot and Very Cool is an exhibition that illuminates the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) with over 200 glass artworks from the Olnick Spanu Collection.
A glassblower – if you’ve ever had the chance to meet one or hang around a glass furnace – are on their off-time moonstruck, but you’d have to be to manipulate a molten liquid at over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet their understanding of gravity and fluid mobility, along with a sense of design, has enamoured the world over for centuries. So it is no surprise that a successful piece relies on the collaboration between designer and master glassworker, and is the common working habit in Murano.

Murano glassmakers have been known for their development and refined technologies such as crystalline glass, enameled glass (smalto) multicolored glass (millefiori), and milk glass (lattimo). As well, in the early years, they were the only people in Europe who knew how to make a mirror.

Cappellin & Company, Venini & Company and Artisti Barovier & Company, are among the companies that helped to create what has become known as Venetian glass.
Paolo Venini was a lawyer from Milan who came to Venice in 1921. He formed a partnership with Giacomo Cappellin, a Venetian antiques dealer, which lasted for four years.

Together they started a glassworks, Cappellin Venini & C. and brought in Vittorio Zecchin as art director – this began the revolution of Venetian glass design. They produced simple shapes in transparent colours, compared to the heavily decorated designs of that time.

Much earlier the Barovier brothers formed Artisti Barovier in 1878, whose family history of glassmakers dates back to the 13th century. Although the company changed names several times, known today as Barovier & Toso, it was strong in its technique development and filing of patents. Going beyond kitschy paperweights and glass beads, the collection that New Yorkers Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu have been pruning has achieved international prominence with more than 500 pieces. It is a collection, primarily consisting of vessels – vases created from 1910 to the present, which was inspired by the purchase of Paolo Venini’s hourglass Clessidra in the early ’90s.

“Over the past two decades, glass has become a focus of collecting in the United States generally, but nowhere more so than in the Detroit area,” said Graham W. J. Beal, director of the DIA. “Presenting such a distinctive collection as Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu’s at the DIA has a particular resonance as is demonstrated by the group of related pieces from local collections.”

Besides boasting some of the artists of the last century – Carlo Scarpa, Thomas Stearns, Paolo Venini – contemporary works by Laura Diaz de Santillana, Lino Tagliapietra and Giorgio Vigna are juxtaposed in the exhibition offering up an evolution of the art of glassmaking in Murano.

Scarpa’s work, for example, favours vivid colours. He preferred to “study” with the master glass workers of Murano and along with friend Paolo Venini created innovative designs. The works in this exhibition are exemplary of this.
“Seduction”, the main factor that inspires the collectors in choosing objects, is apparent in Scarpa’s work Trasparente, 1926-1931 and in Giorgio Vigna’s Fuochi d’acqua, 2002.

Massimo Vignelli, also in charge of exhibition design, is well known for his glassmaking skills and is a featured artist in the exhibition. Fungo and Vetro e argento were created while he worked for Murano’s most prominent glass workshop Venini and Company.

While the glassblower faces the light of the glory hole (the furnace opening) it is the manipulation between molten glass, blowpipe, marver and vision that brings the tune of fluidity to beauties found at the DIA.

Red Hot and Very Cool runs at Detroit Institute of Arts, 200 Woodward Ave, December 10 to February 27, 2005. Visit for more information and a list of coinciding programmes.

© 2004 Tamdem News


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The Ca’d’Oro style glasswork has always been very popular,  the gold or silver foil embedded in the glass brings a distinctive shimmer to the vase, bead or figurine. However, what most people do not realize is the term Ca’d’Oro literally means “House of Gold”, and is actually one of the most famous buildings on the Grand Canal in Venice renown for its Gothic architecture.

The Ca’d’Oro was originally constructed in 1421-1422, and has gone through many renovations and modifications until 1894. In 1894, Baron Giorgio Franchetti purchased the building, and restored it to its prior grandeur. Upon his death, in 1916, it was given to the state, and it now houses an art museum. Since it has been owned by the state, it has undergone further restoration work to return its original Gothic architecture and design, albeit without a gilded exterior. Although the original gold foil façade is long gone, the technique used to imbue Murano glass with gold and silver foil lives on. For an example of Ca’d’ Oro beads, visit our Murano Glass Jewelry page.

Below are some pictures of the Ca’d’Oro, from both the past and present, and links for a more in depth review of the architecture.

The official site of the art Museum now housed in the Ca d’Oro.