Reputed for its unique glass artwork as far back as the 10th century the island of Murano, off the coast of Italy, is the home of many of the most beautiful glassworks ever created. Murano artisans craft everything from figurines to art glass, wine stoppers plus jewelry. The glassworks produced by Murano artists became so well known that will nearly half of the island’s population was involved in glassmaking.
History of Murano Glass Making
In the late 13th century the people of Venice feared that their city would be damaged by fire from the glass maker’s furnaces they forced the glassmakers to move to the island of Murano. By the 14th century the glassmakers had become the most prominent residents of Murano. They were treated since royalty, immune to prosecution, allowed to carry swords and they found their own daughters married to the most important groups of the time.
How Murano Glass is created
Traditional Murano glass manufacturing is an art handed down over the centuries and was once such a closely protected secret that in the 1600’s cup artisans were forbidden from making the Venetian Republic. With cup blowing being a family tradition passed on through the family, many of the techniques have remained basically unchanged more than 500 years.
Starting with pure silica the particular glassmaker heats the silica until it achieves a liquid state.
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As it cools the glass enters a malleable state where the cup is firm where it can be worked well, shaped and colored. The artist shapes, reheats, shapes again, reheats again, add color and ingredients such as sodium, nitrate or arsenic to achieve the desired final product.
Styles of Murano Glass
As with most styles of art, glass making contains a variety of and specific styles. Some of the most popular include:
Murrine: Murrine glass contains layers of glass stretched over canes (long rods). When the glass cools it is then sliced exposing a pattern in the cross area. By using this technique the artist can make pictures and patterns in uncooked glass before melting it all with each other in to a single piece.
Filigrana: Also known as reticello or retortoli glass, filigrana glass created when color or even white threads of glass are usually encased in clear glass rods. When the glass threads are woven to create a grid it is referred to as reticello and when the glass threads are twisted in to a spiral they may be called retortoli. As one of the oldest glass techniques it is probably the style many identified as Murano glass.
Lattimo: Usually used for thicker glass and sculptures, Lattimo glass is identifiable simply by its opaque white color. This particular white glass often serves as the canvas for colored enamels to become applied to create whatever pattern or picture the artist desires. Made without blowing, Lattimo glass accomplishes its opaque white color from your sodium that is added to the silica as the glass is made.
Sommerso: Superimposed, or layered, glass, Sommerso cup is created by submerging the object many times in various colors while it is being created. Each submersion lays a new layer of glass and color outrageous of the preceding layer. This style of glass is actually quite new, having are available in to production in the late thirties and gaining widespread popularity in the fifties.
Glass has been used as jewelry since the first days of glass making. The first cup jewelry techniques date back to as far as 2300 BC and involved a procedure called core-forming. Using a copper fishing rod a string of molten cup would be wrapped around the rod until a bead of glass was created. Color was added either through impurities in the source material or intentionally by adding pigments as the glass making process was improved and clearer types of glass were created.
As technologies progressed the process of lamp working or even, more recently, torch working where a solitary direct flame or torch can be used to heat the glass. By using a single flame the glass designer can control both the temperature where they work and the layering procedure much more closely than could be done using a furnace and molten glass.
Modern Glass Jewelry Fashion
Glass jewelry has never really fallen from style in more than 2, 500 years. But recently it has noticed a resurgence as bead jewellery has become wildly popular again. Dozens of manufacturers have started making Murano glass beads as a part of their jewelry lines. This has re-opened the old argument of whether glass beads made beyond Murano can be legitimately called Murano glass beads.
We see mass production, all by hand, in industrial facilities around the world now. Many are based in cheaper labor cost areas such as Thailand and India and even the Philippines. Much like Swarovski Crystal, there are a lot of amazingly manufacturers in the world. But only one can call itself Swarovski. The difference getting that Swarovski is a family/company while Murano is a region. I can’t inform the difference between Murano Glass beads made on the Island of Murano and anywhere else in the world, but I am certain that purists would prefer to have beads and glass made from there.