Whether transparent or ribboned in color, delicately fashioned into animals, fish and other figures, or used to create decorative plates and bowls, hand-blown Venetian glass – also known as Murano – for the neighboring island – has been a mainstay of design for centuries.
Blown glass is made from silica (sand) and other components heated to a high temperature in a furnace, then shaped by a skilled glassblower using a torch, a metal rod called a pontil and hand tools. Italy has led the way in this process.
“They kind of cornered the market in developing in-depth knowledge, in terms of passing it down from generation to generation until roughly the 16th century,” says Jack Wax, professor of glass and director of graduate studies at VCU. “All the tools we use have all been developed in Italy – along with many of the most advanced manufacturing techniques.
“They were the best in the world. They could do things that no one else technically could.
The first versions of Venetian glass in the 15th century were clear, called crystallo, or opaque, called lattimo. This style was followed by the use of bright hues, techniques such as enameling, and intricate designs like millefiori (“thousand flowers”), with its small bursts of color resembling buttons. Over time, as other countries mastered the art, Italy’s impact remained.
Venetian glass continues to be made in Murano, with new pieces available, and vintage examples can be purchased from sites such as President and 1stdibs.
1291 – A historic law
A law of 1291 required that all Venetian glass kilns be transferred to Murano, an island about a mile away by boat, apparently to limit the risk of fire among the wooden structures of Venice. But the move was also seen as an attempt to sequester artisans and protect trade secrets. From the 17th century, as trade routes developed and other countries mastered glass-making, Murano was no longer seen as its epicenter.
1295 – Barovier & Toso
Founded in 1295, what is now Barovier & Toso is one of the oldest glass companies in Murano, with a history that includes Angelo Barovier’s discovery of clear glass making in 1450 and a continuing tradition of producing finely detailed and detailed chandeliers, wall lights and table lamps. distinctive. A 1936 merger created today’s Barovier & Toso; among his most iconic pieces is the so-called Taif chandelier, created in 1980 for a Saudi king.
1921 – Venini and Carlo Scarpa (1932)
On the occasion of its centenary, the Venini The glassworks was founded by Paolo Venini and Giacomo Cappellini in 1921. Architect Carlo Scarpa (1906-78) became its artistic director in 1932, incorporating innovative design and color, as well as pioneering techniques such as bollicine (small air bubbles) in glassware.
From 1934 to the present day – Lino Tagliapietra
Born in 1934, recently retired glassblower Lino Tagliapietra apprenticed in glassmaking at the age of 11 and became a maestro a decade later. During his rich career, Tagliapietra was a Steuben artist in residence, creating his own creations using Steuben crystals. In 2011, Tagliapietra inaugurated the glass workshop at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk with a public demonstration.
A new exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Sargent, Whistler and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano”(Until May 8, 2022) presents Venetian glass vessels in tandem with works by 19th-century American artists inspired by their stay in Venice. The Chrysler Museum of Art has a large collection of glass, including pieces from the 1920s to the 1960s made in well-known Murano factories such as Venini and Barovier & Toso.
20TH CENTURY MURANO GLASS
Vintage selections available at Maurice Beane, specialist in 20th century decorative arts in Richmond, at chairish.com/shop/mauricebeaneartanddesign