Being a ninth century glassmaker and belonging to a brand new industry in Venice gave you a privileged position, except for one thing.
You could not leave the island where you worked. Ever.
A Jealously Guarded Craft
The foundries in Venice itself where the glass was heated were a fire hazard to the wooden buildings so the Venetian authorities moved the glassmaking facilities to the small island of Murano, where they continued to make the very sought after handcrafted glass.
The artisans who made the exquisite pieces of glass were faced with harsh punishments if they tried to emigrate, probably because Venetian powerbrokers didn’t want their treasure-making secrets to spread.
Murano glassware was a prized and lucrative commodity so the authorities were determined to keep its secrets confined to Murano. The glassmakers were, though, often immune to legal prosecution and allowed to brandish swords, a privilege held by nobles.
Visiting Murano Today
Produced as a treasure and symbol of power and opulence for European royalty from medieval times, Murano glass remains a gleaming gem unique to Italy. Murano glass can never go out of fashion, and is still made today.
Murano glass is famous worldwide for its quality and aesthetic beauty. It comes in an eclectic mix of colors and crystal, in a variety of shapes and sizes. Murano glass is still created by hand, using centuries old techniques of the great artisans. Floral motifs are common. No piece is ever the same.
You can visit Mirco Rosso's small glassmaking studio today on the Sottoportico dei Botteri, 1596, where you can see tiny glass figures, for example, an entire orchestra, and more abstract pieces being shaped under flames.
Techniques Handed Down Over Centuries
Perhaps the most prized example of Murano glass is the chandelier. A global benchmark of style and luxury, the Murano chandelier was a symbol of power for royal families. These treasures feature intricate designs in crystal that produce wondrous and magical effects with light. They are highly prized by museums and art collectors.
Murano glass is still handmade using age-old techniques unique to Murano, but evolving for modern tastes. There have been advances in crystalline glass, milk glass and multicolored glass. Creating the perfection that is Murano quality glassware involves a complex making process and a downright ruthless level of attention to detail.
The glass itself is first heated in special furnaces until it glows red and then turns completely to liquid. Once the glass begins cooling down and thickening, the glassmaker will begin shaping the glass. This shaping process is done via blowing air into the hot goo through a long tube and also using iron instruments to hand mold the glass into shape.
At this point, the glassmaker will even weave specific patterns and a variety of colors into the glass, which requires painstaking and meticulous attention to create perfection.
Today, larger production facilities strive to meet global demand, but you’ll still find plenty of small stores of Murano glassmakers on the island creating their masterpieces. Be careful when shopping in Venice. There are cheap knockoffs imported from China, while the glassmakers work to protect the integrity of their process.
How to Spot Authentic Murano Glass
Murano glass is very distinct because it contains no impurities, air bubbles, smudges and is literally crystal clear. A simple test: genuine Murano glass is lighter and more delicate than mass-produced glass. If the piece feels thick and heavy, it probably is a copy. Murano glass is layered as well, so if you perceive large singular pieces, it may not be genuine.
Another thing to look out for are certificates of authenticity. If you see the “Vetro Murano Artistico” trademark decal in the window, that guarantees that a shop or showroom offers authentic Murano glass. All Murano glass made after 1980 will come with a certificate that guarantees its authenticity.
If you are purchasing a valuable piece of Murano glass, take a photo of the certificate and examine it closely. There is a market for forged ones too, created with computers. Ask for a second opinion from a reputable dealer. If the seller objects, then an alarm bell should go off for you. There are plenty of imitators who will wave a certificate to claim their glassware is Murano when it isn’t. Look at the certificate and examine it with skepticism.
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