Murano Glass: Ten Centuries of Art

Known for its unique glass artwork dating back to the 10th century the tropical isle of Murano, off the coast associated with Italy, is the home of probably the most beautiful glassworks ever created. Murano artisans craft everything from figurines in order to art glass, wine stoppers plus jewelry. The glassworks produced by Murano artists became so well known that will nearly half of the island’s population was involved in glassmaking.

History of Murano Glass Making

In the late 13th century the people of Venice feared that their city would be damaged by fire from the glass maker’s furnaces they forced the glassmakers to move to the island of Murano. By the 14th century the glassmakers had become the most prominent residents of Murano. They were treated because royalty, immune to prosecution, allowed to carry swords and they found their own daughters married to the most important families of the time.

How Murano Glass is Made

Traditional Murano glass manufacturing is an art handed down over the centuries and was once such a closely protected secret that in the 1600’s glass artisans were forbidden from causing the Venetian Republic. With cup blowing being a family tradition passed on through the family, many of the techniques have got remained basically unchanged more than 500 years.

Starting with pure silica the glassmaker heats the silica till it achieves a liquid state. As it cools the glass gets into a malleable state where the glass is firm where it can be worked well, shaped and colored. The performer shapes, reheats, shapes again, reheats again, add color and materials such as sodium, nitrate or arsenic to achieve the desired final product.

Types of Murano Glass

As with most types of art, glass making contains many different and specific styles. Some of the most popular include:

Murrine: Murrine glass includes layers of glass stretched more than canes (long rods). When the glass cools it is then sliced uncovering a pattern in the cross section. By using this technique the artist can create pictures and patterns in uncooked glass before melting it all with each other in to a single piece.

Filigrana: Also referred to as reticello or retortoli glass, filigrana glass created when color or white threads of glass are usually encased in clear glass supports. When the glass threads are weaved to create a grid it is referred to as reticello and when the glass threads are twisted in to a spiral they are called retortoli. As one of the oldest glass techniques it is probably the style most identified as Murano glass.

Lattimo: Frequently used for thicker glass and statues, Lattimo glass is identifiable simply by its opaque white color.
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This particular white glass often serves as a canvas for colored enamels to become applied to create whatever pattern or even picture the artist desires. Made without blowing, Lattimo glass achieves its opaque white color from your sodium that is added to the silica as the glass is made.

Sommerso: Superimposed, or layered, glass, Sommerso cup is created by submerging the object multiple times in various colors while it is being produced. Each submersion lays a new level of glass and color outrageous of the preceding layer. This style of cup is actually quite new, having come in to production in the late thirties and gaining widespread popularity in the fifties.

Glass Jewelry

Glass continues to be used as jewelry since the earliest days of glass making. The first glass jewelry techniques date back to so far as 2300 BC and involved a process called core-forming. Using a copper rod a string of molten glass would be wrapped around the rod until a bead of glass was developed. Color was added either through pollutants in the source material or deliberately by adding pigments as the glass making process was improved and clearer kinds of glass were created.

As technology progressed the process of lamp working or even, more recently, torch working where an one direct flame or torch is used to heat the glass. Using a single flame the glass musician can control both the temperature at which they work and the layering process much more closely than could be accomplished using a furnace and molten cup.

Modern Glass Jewelry Fashion

Glass jewelry has never really fallen out of style in more than 2, 500 years. But recently it has seen a resurgence as bead jewelry has become wildly popular again. Lots of manufacturers have started making Murano glass beads as a part of their jewelry lines. This has re-opened the old argument of whether glass beads made outside of Murano can be legitimately called Murano glass beads.

We see mass production, all by hand, in industrial facilities around the world now. Many are based in reduce labor cost areas such as Thailand and India and even the Philippines. Much like Swarovski Crystal, there are a lot of crystal manufacturers in the world. But only one can call itself Swarovski. The difference getting that Swarovski is a family/company while Murano is a region. I can’t inform the difference between Murano Glass beads made on the Island of Murano and anywhere else in the world, but I am certain that purists would prefer to have beads and glass made from there.

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