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 archaelogists 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. Ruling the Continent The popularity of Venetian glass in the 15th and 16th centuries was fuelled by its expertise in producing clear glass - cristallo - or the white glass mimicking porcelain - lattimo. The practice of enamelling glass, which had originally spread from the Middle East, was also highly popular at the time. Venetain mirrors, too, were in great demand. The evident prosperity of the glassmakers' guild on Murano of course attracted attempts at competition elsewhere in Europe and Italy and Venice was forced to intensify its carrot and stick approach to the industry. The ranks of master and assistant glassblower were opened up to allow non-residents an honorary citizenship of Murano - subject to the same rights and restrictions, of course - and, at the same time, steps were taken to close glass furnaces operating in other parts of the territory controlled by the Venetian Republic by force. In the time of its greatest popularity, Murano was visited by crowned heads, popes and the leading businessmen of its time - all attracted by glass "à la façon de Venise". Seeds of Decline As with the Republic itself, the seeds of an eventual decline were hidden within the apparent success. Knowledge attempts to be free and, despite best efforts of the guilds, the government and the feared secret services, enough seeped away from the island to allow rival enterprises to start. Merchants who had experience of commerce with Murano set up their own factories in France, Belgium and Austria. The repeated bouts of plague necessitated frequent relaxations of the strict employment laws to attract a sufficient number of workers. And, eventually, a new technique arose to challenge the pre-eminence of Murano glass - leaded glass - which developed bases in the UK and Bohemia. Times of Hardship The 18th century saw the seeds of decay start to flourish, and the furnaces of Murano were hit with worker discontent as one after another was forced to close and unemployment grew. The relative decline in the importance of Venice as a power on the political stage also meant that it was less effective in policing its extensive and restrictive rules. Even an unexpected niche boom - led by a manufacturer of glass chandeliers - exemplified the decline. After centuries of seclusion the manufacturer was allowed to set up shop in Venice itself to keep his furnace and workers away from his jealous colleagues.
Occupation first by French and then Austrian troops put the finishing touches to the Serenissima - the Venetian Republic - and very nearly put paid to the glassmaking industry. Modern Times Glassmaking in Venice suffered under foreign rule and it was not until Venice was made part of Italy that the fortunes started to rise again. The Venice Biennale at the end of the 19th century showed that the spark of glass art was not dead and the early 20th century saw interest grow in using traditional techniques as part of a new movement. The post World War II increase in visitors and interest in Venetian history has brought criticism that much of the "tourist glass" produced is a) not even made in Murano and b) unworthy of its pedigree. But, on the other hand, the current interest has also enabled the development of specialist lighting and jewellery producers - as well as the high end glass sculptors and artists.
Home > Venice Tours > Venice Travel Guide > Murano Island Murano Island, Venice Tourist information on Murano, Venice. Information includes details on the famous glass made on the island of Muyrano, tours of the Island, and how to get to Murano from Venice. Murano is the most famous of the Venetian Islands, and the most visited courtesy of the famous glass-works that produce the popular “Murano Glass”. The people of Venice have been making crystal and glass since the 10th Century, when the Venetian merchants brought back the secrets of production from the East. You can visit Murano on Boat Tour from Venice. A 9 minute water boat ride from the Fondamente Nuove or thirty minute ride from St. Marks , north of Venice, is located the island of Murano. This is where everyday life revolves around the glass making industry. Water plays a large role in life on Murano probably more so than in Venice and they have their own grand canal. The only bridge is ‘Ponte Longo', made of iron and built in 1866. The oldest preserved evidence for the existence of the glass blower dates back to 982 and is found in Venice's archives. Documented evidence shows that in 1279, it was confined to the ‘rio dei Vetrai' where even today are located the oldest glass factories. The fortune of Murano came in 1291 when the glass makers were invited to leave Venice and move all the furnaces onto the island of Murano.
This is a means of security to avoid the hazard of fire which would be very dangerous for Venice. Therefore the island became the most important centre for the glass industry in all of Europe until the XVII century. Venice has been the protagonist in the history of glass pearls (conterie) from around 1200 to 1950, with the monopoly of their production. They are pearls obtained by working over a flame and were used like money for exchange with natives of colonial states. Glass workers were prohibited to emigrate from Venice with the threat of confiscation of property. The Republic didn't want competition arising from rival schools. Despite this some teachers managed to emigrate illegally to Florence, London and to the rest of Europe.
The fall of the Serenissima Republic, was accompanied by the decline of the craft of glasswork. The rebirth was encouraged in the mid 1800's by the Barovier, Toso, Seguso, Salviati families. The production is still today a handicraft and the majority of businesses have from 2-5 artisans even though some have 50-60 employees. The method of manufacture is the same, there are no machines and what counts is the ability and breath of the artisan. Every company had their own formula which up until the 1800's was secret, but with the advent of chemistry and research institutions these were no longer unknown. In the past the glass blower would show his expertise with intricate objects, however today they are no longer so complicated because articles would be too expensive. It usually takes 3-4 people to finish an object, but in a large scale company it can be as many as 18.
Artisans create objects of every colour, but only experts know how to obtain variants of red and yellow, the most difficult colours to obtain. Articles range from vases to unique pieces, statues to animals. The variety of glass in Murano is vast and can be quite expensive. Pieces signed by Barovier & Toso, Venini, and Carlo Moretti are a guarantee of international fame. There are also over 100 small businesses who work glass by candlelight and therefore don't require the furnace. They produce small pieces and souvenirs. How to get to Murano: • Public Transportation - The island can be reached by public transportation by the water-bus # 52 from Piazzale Roma or San Zaccaria ( near St Marks), or the 12, 13 or 52 from the Fondamenta Nuove City Sightseeing ToursSpecial Offer Combo ToursWalking ToursDay Tours and ExcursionsPrivate ToursShore ExcursionsTransfers & Ground ServicesWine & Food ToursBoat Tours & CruisesVenice Travel GuideArt & Architecture
Guide to Murano island in Venice famous for Murano Glass 1970, Viewed 22 February 2017, <http://tours-italy.com/venice-tours/venice-travel-guide/murano-island/>.
Venetian Glass Info 1970, Viewed 22 February 2017, <http://www.venetian-glass.info/history.php>.