For many centuries the Italians had a monopoly on the international glass trade, producing some of the most beautiful and unique glass in the world. By the 13th century, Venice had become the glass capital of the world. Glass was such an incredibly valuable export for the Venetians, they fiercely guarded their secret techniques, going as far to execute glass blowers that attempted to flee the city. However, by the 17th Century, the Venetians had lost their grasp on the global market to the small European kingdom of Bohemia. So how did Venice’s centuries long reign come to an end?
Whilst the glassmakers of Murano and Venice were busy exporting their wares across the globe, Bohemian glassmakers were busy focusing on local industry. Whilst industrious glass factories existed in Bohemia as early as the 12th century, they didn’t share in nearly the same success as the Italians. However, roughly in the 16th century, the Bohemians discovered a new technique in the production of glass, developing a clear product that was more stable than the secret glass recipes of the Venetians. This meant that the glass could be etched and cut with significantly less risk of breaking compared to the glass from Murano. This development in glassmaking was a game changer, enabling the bohemians to produce patterns and decorations that were previously considered impossible. Bohemia’s natural resources proved to be of incredible help to the glass industry, with healthy deposits of limestone and silica at their disposal. Another benefit of their newfound recipe meant that the ashes from the timber burned in the kilns, could be recycled to produce more potash, a key ingredient in the Bohemians new glass formula.
Over the next century, Bohemia’s industry boomed, with over 34 factories during the 17th century producing top quality glass products. The development of their new found glass formula couldn’t have come at a better time, as Europe entered their High Baroque period, which left the rich and noble hungry for lavish and exotic goods. Crystal produced by the English looked plain and ordinary compared to the etched and coloured glass of the Bohemians, and hordes glass artists from Murano immigrated to Bohemia to join in their newfound success. Suddenly Bohemian glass and crystal could be found across the globe, with many European palaces boasting ostentatious chandeliers, or elegant glassware sets. The Bohemians had emerged on the world stage, and weren’t planning on going anywhere.
With the advent of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the Bohemians became an unstoppable force. The construction of railways meant that the Czechs could import more materials for production, and export considerable amounts of glassware across the globe. The industrial revolution also meant that the Bohemians could mass-produce glassware at a cheaper cost, making their glass more affordable to the emerging middle class. By the mid 1800’s, Bohemian glass could be found in many homes throughout the world.
Starting as a humble local industry in a small European nation, Bohemian glass quickly became a giant in its field, squashing competition through innovation and creativity. Bohemia, which is now apart of the Czech Republic, remained prosperous throughout the 20th Century, despite political revolutions and war, with Czech glassmakers still counted among the best in the world.
If you would like any further information on Bohemian glass and crystal, or would like to view any of the examples we have in store, please don’t hesitate to call us on 07 3221 3112 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org