Origins of Murano Glass

Glass making in Venice goes back to Roman Empire. The Roman Empire introduced glassmaking in the form of vases, vessels, and bottles to the continent of Europe over 2000 years ago. Molded glass were used in bathhouses in Roman Empire. The fall of the Roman Empire led to a brief decline in glassmaking, but the city of Venice soon reestablished itself as an international trading center. Venetian Glass making originated in Venice in the ninth century. In 1292, The Venetian Republic, afraid of the fire, ordered the glassblowers to move to a small island - Murano. Venice in that period was built of wood and fire was not exactly welcome, the kilns kept starting fires in Venice. By the fourteenth century the 3000 inhabitants of the island became some of the most respected and revered citizens in all of Venice, granted special privileges and favors by the Republic. Murano then developed into a rich village.

Murano is a suburb of Venice dating back to the middle ages. It is known for its as the purest and most crystal clear glass to be found anywhere on earth. To obtain clarity of glass, glass makers strived to acquire only the best of raw materials necessary. Ordinary sand was replaced by quartz pebbles collected from the river beds of the Ticino and the Adige rivers. These pebbles, called cogoli, were a source of nearly pure, naturally occurring silica for glass makers in Murano. After passing inspection these pebbles were heated until they glowed then dipped in cold water. Following this treatment the pebbles were crushed and ground into a fine powder. The finer the cogoli; the more beautiful the end product.

Murano Glass Making Techniques are :

What made Murano and it’s glassmakers special ?

They were the only people in Europe who knew how to make glass mirrors. They also developed or refined technologies such as crystalline glass, enameled glass , glass with threads of gold , multicolored glass and imitation gemstones made of glass. Their virtual monopoly on quality glass lasted for centuries, until glassmakers in Northern and Central Europe introduced new techniques and fashions around the same time that colonists were emigrating to the New World.

Murano was a commercial port as far back as the 7th Century, and by the 10th Century it had grown into a prosperous trading center with its own coins, police and commercial aristocracy. Then, in 1291, the Venetian Republic ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano because the glassworks represented a fire danger in Venice, whose buildings were mostly wooden at the time.  In no time Murano's glassmakers were the leading citizens on the island.  Artisans working in the glass trade were well rewarded for their efforts. They had a privileged social status, and their daughters were allowed to marry into the wealthiest Venetian families. However glassmakers weren't allowed to leave the Republic. If a craftsman got a hankering to set up shop beyond the Lagoon, he risked being assassinated or having his hands cut off .

Venetian glass reached the peak of its popularity in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Starting from the 17th century, Murano glass entered the period of gradual decline.
In 1814,  setback in the fortunes of the Republic came with the conquest of Venice by Napoleon in 1797 and the subsequent transfer in 1814 of Venice to the Hapsburg Empire.  Habsburg rulers preferred their native glassmaking center in Bohemia and passed laws making it prohibitively expensive to bring necessary raw materials into Murano and export the final product. As a result, almost half of the 24 furnaces that existed in Murano in 1800 shut down by 1820, and only 5 furnaces continued to produce blown glass. However, against all odds, the industry didn’t die completely. However, in the mid-19th century the tide of decline was reversed. For the first time in many years a new glass furnace was established. The firm called Fratelli Toso was inaugurated in 1854, and this was followed by another firm in 1859 called Salviati. Both firms initiated with utilitarian products, the first to make every-day glassware, the second to produce tiles to repair mosaics.

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