Murano Glass

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Fanciful 17th century Venetian antique Murano glass

17th century, Antique Murano glass, Venetian cristallo bucket in vetro a retorti with alternating canes of blue and white

Venice, had long been an important center of glass making, with the earliest reports of exports of glass from Venice recorded around 1250. By the 16th century it had emerged as the dominant glass producer in Europe at which time the factories were moved to the islands of Murano, just north of the city, because it was thought that the extensive use of fire by the glass makers endangered the city. 

In about 1460 Angelo Barovier of Murano invented a new, clearer soda glass known as cristallo, or crystal, which was the key to Venetian supremacy in antique Murano glass production. Gilding was sometimes applied to the cristallo glass, and cristallo began to replace colored glass in popularity among Murano wares. The pieces produced at Murano exhibited magnificent artistry, many were richly enameled or delicately translucent, making glassware from Murano well sought after all over Europe.

In addition to clear cristillo glass,  Murano glass craftsmen made opaque white lattimo glass, or milk glass, that was translucent but not transparent, and was often used for designing drinking glasses, tazzas and other vessels in a variety of patterns. Some of the patterns of antique Murano glass include: 'vetro a reticello,' crisscrossed to form a lattice; 'vetro a retorti,'a twisting of glass threads together in simple or complex designs; and 'vetro a fili,' where the threads run in parallel lines forming straight or spiral patterns. 

One type of antique Murano glass, Millefiori glass, literally meaning "thousand flowers," is made by joining tiny rods of colored glass into flower formations and fusing them into canes before the glass is blown. 

Latticinio or decoration of swirling, interlocking enameled threads embedded in the glass before it is blown, is another method shown on Murano glass collectibles.

Before the 17th century, specialist knowledge of materials and technology of making Murano glass were regarded as part of the mystery of the craft, carefully learned and handed down to the next generation of craftsmen, and severe penalties were received to anyone who revealed the procedures. Glass craft guilds most often excluded any outsiders of the craft. But, many craftsmen of Murano became well sought after, and many of them were lured away from Venice to other areas throughout Europe, teaching their previously secret methods of crafting glass. For example, when King Henry VIII needed skilled craftsmen of Venetian cristallo, he acquired them directly from the pool of already established glass makers of Murano, much to the dismay of the Venetian authorities. 

Excellent copies of 'glass a la fcon de Venice,' the mark on glassware indicating the item was made in the same technique as antique Murano glass, were made in Spain, France, and the Low Countries. These replicas are of such high quality it is often difficult for the antique collector to distinguish them from the original antique Murano glass wares. These copies are generally heavier in appearance, with the main differentiation being that the metal (body of the glass) of the imitations is not as clear, fine, and thin as that produced on the Venetian island of Murano.

By the 18th century the Murano glass industry had declined as a result of increased interest among Europeans for Bohemian glass, German potash and English lead glass.






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