History of Murano Glassmaking ~ Murano’s reputation as a centre for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction to the city’s mostly wood buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still interwoven with Venetian glass.
Murano's glassmakers were soon the island’s most prominent citizens. By the 14th century, glassmakers were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state and found their daughters married into Venice’s most affluent families. However glassmakers were not allowed to leave the Republic. Many craftsmen took this risk and set up glass furnaces in surrounding cities and as far afield as England and the Netherlands.
Murano’s glassmakers held a monopoly on quality glassmaking for centuries, developing or refining many technologies including crystalline glass, enamelled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (aventurine), multicoloured glass (millefiori), milk glass (lattimo), and imitation gemstones made of glass. Today, the artisans of Murano are still employing these century-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass and glass jewellery to Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers.
Today, Murano is home to the Museo Vetrario or Glass Museum in the Palazzo Giustinian, which holds displays on the history of glassmaking as well as glass samples ranging from Egyptian times through the present day.
The Art of Glassmaking ~ The process of making Murano glass is rather complex. Most Murano glass art is made using the lampworking technique. The glass is made from silica which becomes liquid at high temperatures. As the glass passes from a liquid to a solid state, there is an interval when the glass is soft before it hardens completely. This is when the glass-master can shape the material.
Materials ~ The other raw materials, called flux or melting agents, soften at lower temperatures. The more sodium oxide present in the glass, the slower it solidifies. This is important for hand-working because it allows the glassmaker more time to shape the material. The various raw materials that an artisan might add to a glass mixture are sodium (to make the glass surface opaque), nitrate and arsenic (to eliminate bubbles) and colouring or opacifying substances.
Colours, techniques and materials ~ Colours, techniques and materials vary depending upon the look a glassmaker is trying to achieve. Aquamarine is created through the use of copper and cobalt compounds whereas ruby red uses a gold solution as a colouring agent. The millefiori technique begins with the layering of sliced canes of glass and conterie or tiny glass beads are formed by cutting thin glass canes into sections when cold then rounded when hot. Filigree, incalmo, enamel painted, engraving, gold engraving, lattimo, ribbed glass and submersion are just a few of the other techniques a glassmaker can employ.
Tools ~ It is essential that Murano artisans use tools in the making of their glass. Some of these tools include borselle (tongs or pliers used to hand-form the red-hot glass), canna da soffio (blowing pipe), pontello (an iron rod to which the craftsman attaches the object after blowing in order to add final touches), scagno (the glass-master's workbench) and tagianti (large glass-cutting clippers).