Glass is the subject of many collectors, and it is easy to see why. It’s an engaging yet fragile material that has unique properties unlike any other material. One particular island off the coast of Venice is world renowned for its incredible glass artisans; Murano. Riddled with canals, Murano has forged its reputation through precision, creativity, and quality. With a turbulent yet colourful history, Murano has established itself as one of the finest producers of glass in the world.
Glassmaking in Murano can be traced back to the 7th century, when it was a commercial port used by the Romans. The Venetian lagoon had long been home to many merchants for its shelter and accessibility; and saw the comings and goings of traders from all across the world. It’s believed that this multi-cultural melting pot created the perfect circumstances for the development of glass production in the city. By the early 8th century, the Venetian Republic had formed as an independent city-state, promoting trade and growth. However, it wasn’t until the late 13th century when Murano really began building its reputation.
In 1291, the Venetian Republic forced all glass artists to the island, fearing the potential risk of fire that would have threatened the city; which was largely comprised of wooden buildings. Despite the relocation, the several thousand glass artists flourished on Murano, and over the next century had earned the right to wear swords, a right which was usually reserved for citizens of nobility. It wasn’t too long before glass artists enjoyed all the privileges of highborn venetians, such as political immunity, and the ability to wed young noblewomen. However the rise in social standing for Murano glass artists came at a cost. The Venetians closely guarded the secrets of Murano glass, and would execute any glass artist if they were to leave the Republic of Venice or to sell their knowledge to foreign countries.
Things remained relatively unchanged for the Murano glass artists during the next few centuries, with Murano remaining the glass center of the world. However, by the 17th century, the Venetian Republic’s power had begun to fade, and many glass artists had fled to other European nations fearing persecution. The secret of Murano glass was out, and many artisans moved into specialized glass areas. This change of pace soon created a new product that put Murano back on the map: chandeliers. Many European nations during the turn of the century were looking for vibrant and exotic goods; and were leaving behind the dark and heavy styles of the 17th century. Wood and brass chandeliers were no longer seen as fashionable, creating the perfect market for the colourful and shapely chandeliers of Murano.
At this time, Bohemia was turning into a glass and crystal powerhouse, and was threatening to overtake Murano’s reputation and product. However, glass artist Giuseppe Briati (1686-1772) is often attributed with the success of Murano’s chandelier trade. It is believed that Briati visited and trained in a Bohemian glass factory, before setting up his glass studio in Murano in 1739. Briati began to produced marvelous chandeliers that incorporated the strengths of Bohemian glass, whilst utilizing Italian design and sensibilities. Briati developed what is now known as the “Rezzonico” chandelier, a style of chandelier that is synonymous with Murano glass. True Rezzonico chandliers have spinal-like arms, which consist of many different glass parts that must perfectly fit into each other piece; and is paired with flamboyant glass ferns and flowers flowing from the center. It is often accepted that only a master glass artist could create a Rezzonico chandelier, due to its complexity, and necessity for precision.
On top of the excellent craftsmanship, Murano glass artists produced chandeliers with elaborate floral motifs, and a bouquet of colours. Reds, greens, pinks, and golds were common colours to see in Italian chandeliers; which proved to be wildly successful throughout greater Europe. Noted examples include several palaces and cathedrals in Poland, which can be attributed to Murano architect Simone Belotti, who became the royal architect for Polish King Michael I. From there, Murano glass maintained its stellar reputation, with 50% of the islands population believed to be made up of glass artists during the 18th century. The 20th century, too, had proved to be prosperous for Murano glass artists, with the development of new stylistic techniques such as summerso being developed in the 1930’s. The 1950’s and 60’s saw a boost in popularity in Murano chandeliers, with Hollywood stars decorating their opulent homes with only the finest glass lighting.
The secrets and traditions of Murano glass have been passed from generation to generations, and even today, Murano glass artists are using the same techniques and materials that their ancestors were some 800 years ago. Through its humble beginnings as trinkets for merchants, to being shipped to the palaces of kings, Murano glass has had a rich and diverse history. With Venice and its connected islands sinking further into the Venetian lagoon faster and faster each year, who knows how much longer Murano will be able to produce glass for?
The Antique Guild is very fortunate in owning several Murano glass chandeliers, statues, and objet d’art – Click Here for more information on how to get in touch with us.