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.

History of Murano – 1200’s 1600’s

In 1291, the Maggior Consiglio (Venetian government) decreed that all the glass furnaces had to be moved from the city of Venice proper onto the island of Murano, because of the fire hazard to a city built of wood. More politically astute observers note that the consolidation of all glassblowers on a small island allowed the government to better oversee and manage its monopoly on the profitable industry.
Realizing that the glassblower’s secret techniques were prestigious and one of the underpinnings of the local economy, the Republic further tightened its control by issuing an edict forbidding glassblowers to practice their craft in other countries. To insure that the maestri’s secrets were never revealed, harsh sentences were meted out to individuals who leaked secrets to foreigners or left Venice without official permission. At the time it was rumored that the Maggior Consiglio even hired assassins to capture or kill artisans who left the island.

However, the close eye kept on Murano and its artists had unforeseen positive consequences. By artificially concentrating the entire glass blowing industry on a small island, it inadvertently intensified the level of competition between maestri; as a result the quality of glass was dramatically refined, and new techniques and ideas rapidly disseminated throughout the island.

"Ritorno del Bucintoro al molo il giorno dell'Ascensione" Canaletto, c.1734.

The Renaissance had a profound affect on Italy, and Murano in particular. Angelo Barovier discovered Cristallo, a pure, bright, completely transparent crystal glass, which complemented the intricate designs seen in the mid to late 15th century. Goblets, bottles and pitchers all had ornate and sophisticated designs including enameling and gold leaf. New production techniques were slowly developed, including, filigrana a retortoli in 1527 and a ghiaccio around 1570.

Also during this time, engraving was also seen on some works of glass. Throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, the lightest, most graceful glass was sought after, allowing the reputation and prestige of Venetian glassblowers to flourish as the quality, designs, and bright colors became widely known.

The demand for Venetian glass became so great; some maestros disregarded the Guild’s edict on trade secrets and began migrating throughout Europe. Even Louis XIV commissioned master craftsmen to create glass pieces for the palace at Versailles. The Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain also had their own furnaces run by Muranese expatriates who described their works as à la façon de Venise (in the Venetian manner) and often modified classic designs and techniques to suit local materials and tastes.

How a Murano Glass Millefiori Pendant is Made

How a Murano Glass Millefiori Pendant is Made

When you think of Murano Glass many people can’t help but think of those beautiful Murano Glass Pendants. Almost everyone I know who goes to Venice comes home with a pendant or two along with tons of other Murano glass items. Besides from being stylish and popular these pendants have a bit of history behind them.

History of the Murano Glass Pendant

Murrine are slender rods or canes of multicolored glass. Slices of Murrine fused together are often called “millefiori” or “thousand flowers”, which derives from the variety of floral patterns and geometric shapes that are present within the glass rod. The use of murrine rods can be found in bowls and vases throughout history from Ancient Rome, Phoenician and Alexandrine times. Murrine is referred to in some of the worlds most respected works, Pliny the Elder describes it in his book of Natural History (Book XXXVII), which lists all of the leading methods of art production at the time. Murrine didn’t resurface until the 16th century when it was rediscovered just a short boat ride away from Venice on the island of Murano.

Creating a Murano Glass Pendant

To create a pendant, a glass rod is covered with layers of different colored glass to create an intricate design, and heated in the furnace so the layers fuse together. The rod is then re-heated and pulled to become very thin but still maintain the perfect cross section of the original design. Once the rod cools off, it is cut into small discs. These tiny sections of various canes or “millefiori” are cut and patiently and artistically placed into metal rings of different shapes and sizes.

These designs can be in the form of a heart, cross or simple circle. These pieces are then reheated again to slightly fuse the canes together to form the pendant. The rough pendant is then ground and polished to make it look like a magnificent glass mosaic.

This creation is only complete once it is framed in a gold or silver setting, transforming it into a treasured jewel. Pictures or photographs of these pendants never seem to do them justice. Viewing these pendants in the sunlight allowing the light to shine through will show off this jewels beauty. Each pendant is created by hand so no two will ever be identical. When you buy a Murano glass pendant, you know you are getting a one-of a kind gem!

History of Murano

The history of Murano glass is interesting in the fact that it is the longest lasting center for glass making in history. It spans from the 9th century to today, and is full of beautiful and innovative artwork, success, failure and thankfully, a remarkable resiliency in the face of adversity. Because Murano does have such a long history, one can easily see the reflection of important events, including the Renaissance and Napoleon’s conquest of Europe, and how they affected a small island of glassmakers in the Adriatic Sea. First for readers uncertain of where Murano lies, it is a small island North West of the city of Venice, Italy – not much larger than a few square miles.

It is believed the origins of Murano Glass dates back to 9th century Rome, with significant Asian and Muslim influences, as Venice was a major trading port. Multihued perle (beads) were used in trading with Asian, African and Muslim neighbors.

Venice, The Rialto- J.M.W. Turner, 1820 -1821

The first known historical document describes Domenico, a maestro (glass blowing master) who created fiole (bottles). Other equally rare documents describe Pietro Fiolario working with glass in 1083 and Giovanni Fiolario as a maestro making bottles in 1158.

The 13th Century brought an abundance of historical records on the growing trade of glassblowing in Venice. The craft grew so rapidly, that in the 1260’s a trade association, the Arte, was formed. In an attempt to create and formalize a body of broad rules on how glass shops were to be operated and the duties and responsibilities of both maestri and discipuli (disciples), the Capitolare was created. The earliest known version of the Capitolare dates to 1271, and was updated regularly for over 500 years until 1776. Over time, the Capitolare addressed quality control, raw material agreements and trade protection from foreign competitors. Although few glass pieces survive from the 13th century, documents from that period describe a range of utilitarian products from glasses and vases to beads and other less widely recognized objects including enameled glass, imitation jewels and richly colored window panes.

A beginner’s Guide to Collecting Murano Glass !

A beginner’s Guide to Collecting Murano Glass !

Welcome to the world of Murano Glass collecting!Murano glass has a lot to offer the collector, a long lineage of artists dating back to the 12th century to the current maestri living and working in Murano, Venice. Collecting Murano glass also offers a collector a broad range of expressing their collecting whims, from traditional replicas of antique drinking glasses and 18th century chandeliers to more modern Picasso inspired art glass. All of this is bound together by a medium that has become much more popular, glass.

Where do I Start?
One of the best ways to learn about Murano Glass is to visit a collection or search the web, and do some research on the Internet about the pieces and styles of Murano Glass that you find most attractive. Search your desires and figure what types of glass you like, traditional or more modern art inspired? Is there a particular artist or style of glass working that you admire? Do you like millefiori? Paperweights? Figurines? Sculptures? One of the appeals of glass collecting in general is the many unique and ingenious methods used to create different designs and effects. After a short while you should be able to ascertain which type of design or technique of glass working you favor and move your collection in that direction.

Buying Murano Glass

It is always best to buy authentic Murano Glass pieces, as they are more valuable, and it’s always nice
to know that your piece was created with care by the Italian masters. Unfortunately much of the Murano Glass on the internet is “Murano Style” which generally, means that it was made somewhere other than Murano, usually in Asia or Brazil. Authentic Murano Glass is a much higher quality, and after growing used to collecting Murano glass, you will be able to identify authentic Murano Glass at a glance.

However, over the Internet, things are often not what they seem, and you cannot easily inspect the item you are interested in. What it comes down to is the reputation and honest of the retailer. Have they been selling Murano glass for a while? Do they have a good reputation? Do they sell only Murano glass or a little of everything, including Murano Glass? How long have they been in business? Do they offer a generous return policy?

Promovetro the consortium of Glass Blowers in Venice is trying to stem the flood of counterfeit imports from Asia.  A difficult to counterfeit label on the glass identifies which furnace made the item by using a numeric system. For more information on this initiative, visit their website for a list of member companies, and their identification numbers of each furnace. This new image is beginning to replace the gold foil oval “Made in Murano, Italy” familiar to so many.

Buying Pre-Owned Murano Glass

We recommend that collectors investing a sizable sum of money, buy from reputed retailer or gallery, and ask for a certificate of authenticity showing the date of production and artists information. However for
the beginner, it is not necessary to jump right into collecting headfirst.  It is more realistic if you ease into collecting by learning all you can about the art and start small. A great resource for collecting vintage Murano Glass is eBay! Very often you can find pieces ranging from sculptures to jewelry, but again, make sure what you are purchasing is authentic Murano glass, with no “flea bites” or miniscule nicks , and attributable to a particular furnace. Beware of  “Murano Style” glass, as it is not authentic.  Once collecting glass gets in your blood, you will want to learn all you can about the different techniques of glass blowing and
how each technique is used to create a different result. You will begin to realize that you favor some techniques over others, and seek the company or artist that have made this technique their signature style.
Collecting Historic Murano Glass Many people purchase Murano glass for its aesthetic value, but also for its historical art significance. During the mid century period from the 1940’s through the 1960’s when Murano Art Glass was at its height, much of the glass from this era is sought after; especially from the more well know furnaces such as Venini. Many books address this type of Murano Glass, and it is typically sold by galleries.

Consider joining the free Murano Glass Forum, where you can post pictures and ask questions about your newly acquired collection!

In closing, collecting Murano  is a rewarding hobby, which can be passed on from generation to generation much like the techniques and traditions of the Murano Maestro!


Jena and Charlie

Italian influence in Contemporary Glass Show at Steuben New York

Italian influence in Contemporary Glass Show at Steuben New York

A current exhibit at the Steuben flagship store in New York City, curated by the Corning Museum of Glass, offers a great glimpse of how much the Murano maestros have influenced the American Art Glass movement since the 1960’s. The whole learning cycle started with Dale Chihuly, who interned with Venini beginning in 1968. This seminal event opened the floodgate of collaboration that has helped American glass artists master their craft and develop their own signature styles and techniques.

The exhibit, contained in one room is an excellent introduction to the many of the techniques traditionally attributed to Murano masters, including less often seen cold work techniques battutto and inciso. The difficult art of creating Murrine was also on displayed magnificently by Richard Marquis, whose recreation of the Lord’s prayer in murrine was amazing (see photo). I have seen initials, and maybe a few words or an image created in murrine, but the entire Lords prayer was impressive. I cannot imagine how difficult and time consuming it was to create. Dale Chihuly’s work was well represented with a few vases, and a wonderful diaphanous pink glass sculpture, reminiscent of a conch. My impression of the entire exhibit was one of wonderful craftsmanship, all of the glass was executed flawlessly, with a whimsical modern touch. The craftsmanship, passion, and technical mastery of each item are superb.

I should have taken better notes so I could properly attribute each photo to each artist, but below are photos of the exhibit, I annotated as much as I could. Additional artists whose works should also be credited include Dante Marioni, Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg Sonja Blomdahl, William Gudenrath, Yoichi Ohira, Stephen Rolfe Powell, Katherine Gray, Isabelle Poilprez, Kait Rhoads, Marvin Lipofsky and Benjamin Moore.

If you happen to be in midtown Manhattan, and want to see a free exhibit of American Glass artists that use Venetian influenced techniques, stop by the Steuben store, located at 667 Madison Avenue. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Sunday. There is no charge for admission to the show, which is open through July 30th 2005.

Venetian glass: exquisite link to Pilchuck School

Venetian glass: exquisite link to Pilchuck School
By Matthew Kangas. Special to The Seattle Times (9/17/04)

Although “Murano: Glass from the Olnick Spanu Collection” is touring to three more museums after it leaves the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, nowhere will it have as much resonance as in the Pacific Northwest. Finally, visitors get to see the missing link in the Pilchuck Glass School story: Venetian glass in all its glory and influence. Without the famous Italian glassblowers whom Dale Chihuly and Benjamin Moore brought to Pilchuck from 1978 on, Pilchuck and American studio glass in general never would have reached the heights it has. Conversely, if the Murano masters had never come to Pilchuck to see the muscular, can-do young Americans at work, Venetian glass would still be in the doldrums. For that and many other reasons, “Murano” is a must-see. For one thing, it is possibly the most beautifully designed glass exhibition I have ever seen. With ingenious, backlit Plexiglas-covered cases by the giant of modern design, Massimo Vignelli, each of the 200 pieces gets its due. Arranged chronologically, the evolution of artistic styles, techniques and shapes from 1914 on is clearly laid out. Don’t expect a comprehensive history of Venetian glass (made on Murano Island in the Venice Lagoon since 1291) but a highly selective survey assembled by a New York couple, Giorgio Spanu and Nancy Olnick. We get their connoisseurs’ point of view rather than that of an art historian. Despite the ample treasures by 20th-century design giants like Carlo Scarpa, Giò Ponti and Vignelli, there are glaring omissions that keep the survey from being more than a cross-section of the Spanus’ taste. There is no Chihuly, no Robert Willson, no solid-glass sculpture at all, nothing from the famous Forge of the Angels Gallery where Picasso, Cocteau and others had work made, and nothing from S.A.L.I.R., the center of Murano engraving. Olnick and Spanu concentrate on the 1924-45 period which, interestingly, includes the Mussolini-era glass that inspired Chihuly’s famous “Venetians” series (1988-2004). he severe shapes, solid colors and allusions to the “machine age” of the 1930s are beautiful, if cold, but they mark a radical break from all the traditional frou-frous — filigree, engraving, lavish color — that characterize the prior 700 years of Venetian glass.

Once the island opened itself up to architects and others who admired glass but did not know how to make it, the rigid, blue-collar technicians were jump-started into executing the many facets of modern design. After art-nouveau, there are examples of art-deco influences, along with Chinese and Japanese art. After World War II, Scandinavian design, abstract expressionism, op art and the postmodern Memphis style were also felt. This exhibit is also a wonderful way to educate oneself up-close and personal about the somewhat complicated glassblowing processes used. Though everything begins on the blowpipe, a million things can happen before a piece reaches the showroom. Little colored canes or thinner filigree strands are added. Clear layers can be set over inner, colored ones, and walls can be changed with the introduction of tiny air bubbles. After cooling down in the annealing oven for a few days, the outer walls can be engraved, bathed in acid, or even chipped with a tool for special effects. Now, if only there were a couple like Spanu and Olnick in the Northwest so that our museums could also own and display the Italian glass that has been the hidden key to understanding the Pilchuck revolution.

Article © The Seattle Times 2004

Museum features marvelous Murano glass

Museum features marvelous Murano glass

DEBBIE CAFAZZO AND LISA KREMER; The Tacoma News Tribune (9/3/04)

When New Yorker Nancy Olnick acquired her first piece of Murano glass more than 15 years ago at a Sotheby’s auction, it was an impulse buy. A half-cobalt blue, half-emerald green hourglass caught her eye. She placed a bid, then didn’t think about it until the auction house called to tell her the piece was hers. She brought it home, placed it next to an Andy Warhol painting and the bewitching began. That first piece launched a love affair with Murano glass for Olnick and her husband, Giorgio Spanu. Soon, they were traveling the world collecting examples of glass from Murano, an island in the Lagoon of Venice that traces its heritage in glassmaking back to the 13th century. Beginning Saturday, visitors to the Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art in Tacoma can share in the couple’s passion with an exhibit that includes more than 200 pieces from their personal collection. This is the only West Coast showing of the touring exhibit. It’s in Tacoma for nine weeks.
“To enter our collection, the glass has to be made on Murano – no matter where the artist is from,” Spanu said. Originally, the collection was intended to cover the 20th century, but as Spanu and Olnick delved deeper into the world of glass, they discovered new, young artists producing fabulous work. Thus, the exhibit spans the years 1914 to 2002. “It’s one of the most important collections of 20th-century glass in the world,” said Tina Oldknow, curator of modern glass at the Corning Glass Museum in New York. “It’s incredibly representative in terms of its breadth and depth of a period.” The exhibit was designed by Lella and Massimo Vignelli, with David Law, and is curated by Marino Barovier.

The collection is mainly vessels, with only a few glass figures. It’s arranged chronologically, beginning with a brightly colored piece produced around 1914 by Barovier and Co., one of Murano’s glass house dynasties, and ending with a nearly colorless glass and copper vase made by Giorgio Vigna in 2002. Walking through the exhibit is not only a tour through the history of glass art, but also of the major artistic and political movements of the 20th century.

From the boldly colored floral designs of the early part of the century, through the echoes of classicism and images of strength projected during the fascist 1930s to the boundless creativity unleashed following World War II and into the modern era, each of the glass pieces is a reflection of its times. Oldknow praised Olnick and Spanu for the variety of their collection. “They’re very rare in that many people who collect 20th and mid-century art don’t always collect contemporary,” she said. Spanu is a walking encyclopedia, whose knowledge of both the art of glassmaking and the artists – including Paolo Venini, Artisti Barovier, Carlo Scarpa, Thomas Stearns and others – is impressive. Where did he acquire it? “I read a lot,” he said with a smile. One reason the Olnick-Spanu collection is unusual is that glass art hasn’t always been considered high art, Oldknow said. “It’s always been allied with applied arts, or the decorative arts,” she said. “Until recently it hasn’t been used as sculpture. Like ceramics or fiber, these are subjects that have really expanded beyond their roots.” Art glass was never meant to be used, Spanu explained. “It is meant to embellish everybody’s life … to make your life richer,” he said. In the end, Spanu wants those who visit the museum to take away from the Murano exhibit the simplest of pleasures: beauty and peace of mind. “That’s why I have it,” he said. “To relax.”

If you go:

What: “Murano: Glass from the Olnick Spanu Collection”

Where: Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art, 1801 E. Dock St., Tacoma

When: Saturday through Nov. 7 Information: 253-284-4750; www.museumofglass.org

Also: Collectors Nancy Olnick, Giorgio Spanu and artist Benjamin Moore will offer a panel discussion about the exhibit at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Article © The News Tribune 2004

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