History of Murano Glasss

by
Michele Zampedri

Art of the glass (page. 3/4)

In an age such as the present where the word recycle permeates every moment of our lives it is difficult to imagine that there are no alternative solutions that wouldn't take into account this important theme, however this demonstrates the radicle reluctance of the people of Murano to accept technological innovation attached as they are to their history, instruments and traditions. In 1854 Giovanni Giacomuzzi, pearl seller, famous for having first introduced uranium oxide for the coloration of glass into Venice, wrote: " The stationary situation of technical advances is caused mainly by the minimum interest of the Glass Masters to take advantage of resources offered by chemical science which other European technicians have used in order to make rapid progress in a brief time. The quest for knowledge which a century ago was the only access to acquire new ideas and the only support for our designers who wanted to try new methods of fabrication, research new tints or other. They work with the formulas inherited from their forefathers and use materials used by them without having any idea what reactions are happen in the pan...". To reiterate the refracted interest in innovation which even today pulses in the heart of the Glass Masters, it may be enough to say that there exists in Murano a Center for Glass Experimentation on an international level, to which however very few Glass Masters turns to for formulas or suggestions. Even today, those who work with chemical compositions are "L'omo de note" (men of the night). They are among the most curious personalities in the panorama of this sector. They spend their working hours at night in perfect solitude accompanied only by their thoughts, and produce a great deal of work by making their ideas fundamental to the economy of local production. They take care of many different aspects of the glass production, not just the "fondita, or the actual fusion of the glass, but also the maintenance of the furnaces, their destruction and reconstruction after the holiday periods, including the extinction and the delicate job of relighting the fires: the emptying of the slow-baking furnaces, etc. Because of the peculiarity of their work these people have little inclination to talk. For this reason I can't express the difficulty I had in interviewing anyone who would talk to me about his important role and above all about the chemical composition which is a jealously guarded secret. Doro, as my interlocutor is called, after a few minutes of talk promised to write down the formula I asked for and which the next day I would have found on the "scagno" (the Glass Master's work table) del Musta. (I understand how the names may seem strange but in the furnaces family names or registered names are almost never used, preferring nick-names or as they say in dialect "detto" or "so-called". I must say that he was true to his word and I have reproduced here some of his formulas which I will confront with those famous and historic formulas taken from the "ricettario Barbini" (Barbini's book of formulas).


Doro, in his formula book, reproduced above, gives some chemical compositions for coloured glass. As you may note the chemical industry has given a helping hand to these Glass Masters who have always empirically occupied their time with the technological aspects of the question. Naturally I quote here only one of the compositions from Barbini's book of formulas. I have chosen the composition for celeste made on April 11, 1883 and quoted from page 70 of his booklet: refined nitrate white earth red lead from Barileti potash arsenic antimony cotiso de Nitron nitrate There is a curious note that follows the formula: "Butar con fornasa non tanto chalda, mortesina. Sopra questa partita, quando sono stata cota, li ò dato ramina libre 22, a poco alla volta, e poi li ò dato in quatro volte libre altre 300 cotiso di nitrone, e sono venuto un celeste belisimo"(place in a cool oven, almost dying out. When it is baked cover it a little at a time with ramina libre 22 (22 pounds of copper) and then add in four times another 300 pounds of cotiso di nitrate (... nitrate). It becomes a beautiful celeste.)

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