Wednesday, July 31, 2013
In the 8th century, glass makers on an island off the coast of Venice, Italy, began creating a uniquely exquisite glass. Such was the birth of Murano Glass, named after it's island origins. Glass makers make it elsewhere using "murano" techniques, but connoisseurs of this treasure insist that authentic Murano glass is only made on the island.
Venice was a major port of trading at the time and it brought Asian and Muslim influence into Murano. By the 14th century glass makers there enjoyed a prominence among the citizenry; allowed to wear swords, given immunity to prosecution by the Venetian state, and finding their female off-spring married into the affluent families of the day. However, the price for this prominence was the requirement that they never leave the Republic.
Entering the 17th century, nearly half of Murano's population participated in some way in the glass making industry. They enjoyed a monopoly on quality glass making for centuries and developed and refined glass making techniques like crystalline glass, enamelled glass, multi-colored glass, milk glass, and glass containing gold threads. These techniques are still used today in making art glass, glass figurines, and Murano glass chandeliers. There are still many glass factories in Murano today creating all kinds of glass from stemware to sculptures.
The making of Murano Glass is a complex process, most of it employing the "lampworking" technique. Lampworking is a method of melting and shaping solid glass in the flame of a tabletop torch. Glass is made of silica, which when heated to very high temperatures becomes liquid. The interval where the glass is soft prior to solidifying is where the glass artist shapes the material.
There are raw materials used in the process, called "flux" or "melting agents". These soften at lower temperatures. The higher the sodium oxide content in the glass, the more time it takes to solidify. This allows more time for glass makers to shape the material. Artisans add other raw materials to the glass such as sodium which makes for an opaque surface and nitrate and arsenic, which eliminates bubbles.
Coloring materials vary according to the look that the artist is trying to achieve. For example, aquamarine is achieved by combining copper and cobalt compounds, while ruby red is achieved using a gold solution as coloring agent.
There are many well-known historic glass factories still producing today. Among them, Gabbiani, Venini, Berengo Studio, Simone Cenedese, and the oldest being Antica Vetreria Fratelli Toso, which was established in 1854. Only a few use the Artistic Glass Murano trademark which certifies those glass products are made on the island of Murano.
Pictured above; vase and bowl in blown crystal, decorated with gold peacocks and vitreous enamel in relief, by Creazioni Ghisetti Murano.