Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Brief History and Definition of Murano Glass

You’ve probably heard the term thrown around, but do you actually know what makes glass Murano glass, and why it’s so darn valuable (also, amazing)? We’ve thrown together a little history of Murano glass for your learning pleasure!

Firstly, a definition: Murano glass is glass that comes from the island of Murano, which is a small island northwest of the city of Venice, Italy –a few square miles across in size. What makes work from this small island so unique is that this place is considered to be longest lasting center for glass making in history. Believed to have started in the 9th century and continuing on until today, fans of Murano glass will tell you that history itself can be witnessed in the glass produced from this region over time.

It’s not just the length in time that this region has been producing glass, but also the high standards of quality imposed on its craftsmen and products. Starting as early as the mid-1200’s, craft associations, like Arte and a rigorous set of rules and regulations, known as the Capitolare were formed. Things got even more intense for Italian glass artisans in the late 1200s when the government decided that all Italian glassmakers must work and live on the island of Murano, and never leave the country. The government did so to make sure glassmaking secrets stayed in Italy, but there was another positive effect of this isolation: the artisans got better and more inventive with their craft!

The great secrets of glassblowing couldn’t be kept secret for long, though, and other countries slowly began to develop their own glass techniques and styles. Varieties like Bohemian crystal, which is characteristically thicker, heavier and engraved, as well as others began to become as popular as Murano glass, and slowly became formidable competition in a field that previously only held Murano.

Things were a bit tough for Murano glass for a while until around the 1860s, when Vincenzo Zanetti founded the Glass Museum of Murano. More of a school than just a museum, the Glass Museum of Murano began to revive Murano glass blowing techniques, even some of the previously lost techniques. By the late 1890’s Murano glass was almost back on top!

Murano glass again took a hit around World War I, but being the resilient craft it is, again saw a resurgence of popularity in the 1920’s when three artists, Vittorio Zecchin, Paolo Venini, and Giacomo Cappellin, began to redefine Murano glass design with simple lines and designs, delicate and fresh colors and thin glass.

The latter part of Murano’s history to today has been marked not by secrecy, but by collaboration with artists of all media from around the world. Gone were the ideas that all the techniques be kept secret. Since the 1950's the masters in Venice have collaborated with artists like Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and Jean Cocteau to consistently push the envelope in glass making techniques, bringing glass into lighting and furniture, along with decorative and functional items. Murano masters were even behind the artists who began the American Studio Glass movement, as well as inspiring countless other glass movements around the world. Their influence is unarguable, and the beauty, craft and aesthetics of their glass are unmistakable!

This has been an extremely miniature history of Murano Glass, taken from the much more indepth and educational History of Murano Glass.

Photos taken from various online sources.

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