Hidden treasures

Glass Making in Venice: an incomparable form of art

Historical Curiosities

Glass Making in Venice: an incomparable form of art

Here we are back to the incredible history of glass making. Last time we wrapped things up with an important question: how did glass arrive in the Western world and in particular in Venice, which has always been known as the driving force of this magical art?

Some historians claim that it was the Crusaders who brought the art of glassmaking to Venice from the East, while others argue that, following some finds in archaeological excavations in the island of Murano and Torcello, this art already existed in the 7th century BC, perhaps due to the fact that the people living in the coastal area of Adria, where they had learned the technique of glass making, moved to the Venice lagoon. However, it was in the 12th century that glass processing became an established manufacturing activity and in 1291 with the Doge Tiepolo’s edict, all the furnaces active in the historical center of Venice were moved to the lagoon island of Murano to reduce fire hazards in the city. This way the Serenissima Republic was also able to exert a greater control over the furnaces and the glassmakers thus avoiding that the secrets of this art could be leaked outside its borders.

The ancient Amurianum became a true industrial area and soon also the capital of the world’s glass production. The glass making art in Murano was jealously defended by very strict rules: the glassmakers were forced not to reveal the techniques they used and it was strictly forbidden to import foreign glass, plus this trade was enforced with sanctions that prevented those who were not enrolled in the art and those wishing to move abroad from working, otherwise risking imprisonment of their family members or even the death penalty.

Initially the production was for everyday use. Glasses, lamps, bottles and decorative objects, mainly related to religious images, were made, but when trading activities with the Middle East grew stronger and the skilled technology and refinement of Syrian glass became well known, the Murano artisans perfected their technique to the point that in the fifteenth century, glass making became one of the main activities of the Serenissima Republic. During this time, a great transformation in this field took place with the transition from white to transparent glass, so clear as to be called ‘crystal’. It was the great master glassmaker Angelo Barovier who perfected the magic recipe of this incredibly transparent glass and bestowed Venice with an artistic dominance for over two hundred years...

Unfortunately, between 1500 and 1600 the glass making industry in Murano was hit hard: the glass masters began to emigrate and new types of glass were discovered, such as Bohemian lead crystal glass and potassium crystal glass invented in England. However, as it is well known, the Murano inhabitants are very proud of their particular ability in the glass making art: they sprung back and generally improved the quality of their production by creating real artworks characterized by a great variety of colors and shapes. An incomparable form of art that is today still recognized as such. It is no wonder that every year millions of tourists visit the island of glass, mesmerized by the spectacle of a master glassmaker who transforms such ephemeral material under their eyes, creating unique pieces that seem to emit their own light!

Would you like to admire up close the art of glass making? Here is a little tip for you... behind the famous St Mark’s Square, past a small bridge, lies the only furnace remaining in the historic center of Venice. Here you can watch the making of blown glass performed by a true master glassmaker and visit the rich display of handicrafts... an opportunity you should not miss!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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