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Murano

Isola di Murano. Isola di Murano.

The Murano Island is usually described as an island in the Venetian Lagoon, although like Venice itself it is actually an archipelago of islands linked by bridges. It lies about a mile north of Venice and is famous for its glass making, particularly lampworking. It was once an independent comune, but is now a town of the comune of Venice.

Murano’s reputation as a center 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, glass makers were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state and found their daughters married into Venice’s most affluent families. Of course there was a catch: glassmakers weren't allowed to leave the Republic. However, 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, enameled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (aventurine), multicolored glass (millefiori), milk glass (lattimo), and imitation gemstones made of glass. Today, the artisans of Murano are still employing these centuries-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass and glass jewelry 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.

Some of the historical glass factories in Murano are now among the most important brands of glass in the world. These companies include: Venini, Barovier & toso, and Seguso.

The oldest Murano glass factory that is still active today is that of Pauly & C. - Compagnia Venezia Murano, founded in 1866.

History of Murano Glassmaking

It is believed that glassmaking in Murano originated from 9th century Rome, with significant Asian and Muslim influences, as Venice was a major trading port. Murano’s reputation as a centre for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction to the city’s mostly wooden 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.

By the end of the 16th century, three thousand of Murano island's seven thousand inhabitants were involved in some way in the glassmaking industry.

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 figurines to Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers.

Today, Murano is home to a vast number of factories and a few individual artist studios making all manner of glass objects from mass marketed stemware to original sculpture. 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.

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. Murrine technique begins with the layering of colored liquid glass, which is then stretched into long rods called canes (see caneworking). When cold, these canes then sliced in cross-section, which has the layered pattern. The better-known term "millefiori" is a style of murrine that is defined by each layer of molten color being shaped by a mold into a star, then cooled and layered again. When sliced, this type of murrine has many points (thus mille (thousand). Filigree a type of caneworking, incalmo, enamel painted, engraving, gold engraving, lattimo, ribbed glass and submersion are just a few of the other techniques a glassmaker can employ.

Some of the Murano's historical glass factories remain today as well known brands, amongst them Venini, Barovier & Toso, Pauly, Seguso and Simone Cenedese. The oldest glass factory is Antica Vetreria Fratelli Toso, founded in 1854.

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