Tuesday, April 5, 2016

History of Murano Glass

Glassmaking in Murano comes from a common thread in Venetian history - the status of the settlement as a bridge between west and east. Glassmaking was an art that had reached a height in the countries of the Middle East - particularly in Syria, Egypt and Palestine - and Venice, looking outwards to the sea as always, was fertile soil for the specialised skills of the trade.

As Venice's trade grew with the Orient, typified by the journeys of Marco Polo and his uncles, so the skills from that area began to flow - along with the trade goods - along the return route.

This is not to say, however, that glass was an unknown quantity in Italy before this time. The Romans had used glass - cut from a moulded piece rather than blown - for illumination in bathhouses. And what was probably one of the first glass furnaces on a Venetian island - dating from the 8th century, so archaeologists think - was discovered in the 1960s. Not on Murano, however, but on its more important neighbour in those days, the island of Torcello.

The fact that glass-blowing was more an Eastern skill than a European one played in Venice's favour as it, along with its bitter rival, Genoa, had the best connections to that area.

The Development of Murano

Many sources suggest that glassmaking was concentrated on the island of Murano because of the risk of fire from the furnaces on the more heavily populated areas of Rivo Alto and Dorsoduro. However, it is also highly likely that the industry was easier to control and influence when it was in one particular place.

As with the Arsenale, the Venetian authorities aimed to reward and guard a vital industry by keeping it comfortable within a "gilded cage". Incentives and conditions for workers and employers were strictly regulated by the administrators of the government body controlling the glassmaking industry.

And for a long time workers who left the island were forbidden from ever working again within the industry on Murano - a measure taken to stop the outflow of secrets and skills from the island.

Whatever the reasons for the concentration of glassmakers within such a small area, the effect was a tremendous cross-fertilisation of ideas which led to the leading role of Venetian glass within Europe.


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