History of Murano Glass

by
Michele Zampedri

Murano in the prospective map by Jacopo de'Barbari.To the South, the canal of the glass blowers with three bridges. Venice, Correr Museum.

 
 

Glass: between art and mystery

Since ancient times man has paid an almost mystic- attention to glass, attributing something magical and supernatural to this transparent material. Magicians of legend could predict the future by gazing into a crystal sphere, chemists and alchemists studied prisms in search of a stone which would turn metal into gold, magic that was born in flames and like that fire that gave life to the popular belief of the Phoenix, the mythological bird with the golden plumes, glass is synonymous with beauty. Still today, for the visitors who come to Murano, the same scenes which inspired writers and legend are represented. In fact the furnace structures have remained unaltered over time and new technology is seen only in small details. All this is because of the attachment the master glass-blowers have towards tradition. Like a clock, they seem to have stopped time in the more than one thousand years of history of glass-blowing in Venice. The glass masters "battono" (beat, i.e. use) the same glass-blowers pipes and the same instruments which were knowingly forged in the machine shops which were built up over the island which, together with other small activities, has made Murano one of the centers of Venetian commerce. The origins of the art of glass blowing in Venice go back to before the first millennium. This is confirmed by a document written by a Benedict monk, Domenico called "Fiolario", who manufactured phials for use in the home. There is no certainty as to the shape of this phial since not one, neither whole nor in pieces, survived to the present day. We can only hypothesize as to the aspect of the phial from some iconographic documents. The technique used to make the phial was that of blowing into glass using those instruments that the late Roman glass blowing activities had passed down through the ages. It is presumed that later the technique was refined in Venice more than any where else in Europe because of the trading contacts that the Venetians had with the Orient and above all with countries that already had an ancient tradition in glass blowing such as the Fenici, the Syrians and the Egyptians. Such traditions, renewed in the celebrated furnaces of Islam, were an occasion to reconstruct both Western and Oriental knowledge and techniques there by giving the Venetian production a particularness that made their glass so important throughout the world over the course of centuries. Today Venetian glass production is at it's pinnacle, and is world renowned for it's quality and form.

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