The island of Murano is situated just off the shore of Venice and has been famous for its glass for centuries. Its history, while tied to the history of Venetian glass itself, begins in 1291 when Venice ordered the glass foundries to move to Murano in order to diminish the risk of fires in the city. As Venice grew as a major port of trade, its glass trade grew to illustrious heights and Murano glass is still internationally famous today.
Murano glass has historically revealed influences of Venetian, Muslim, and Asian arts. As the glass became ever more revered for its quality and beauty, Murano’s glass makers grew in ever-increasing prominence eventually becoming some of Venice’s most prominent families. Murano and its group of glassmakers enjoyed a glassmaking monopoly for centuries. Artisans developed increasingly refined techniques to produce glass products that could not be found anywhere else in the world; indeed, the Venetian Republic banned its glassmakers from setting up shops anywhere else.
Murano produced various types of glass including millefiori, also known as multi-colored glass; crystalline glass; smalto or enameled glass; aventurine (gold-threaded) glass; milk glass; and a vast array of glass gemstones and beads. The glass foundries produced glassware, goblets, plates, jewels, figurines, chandeliers, etc…and these items are still produced using many old world technologies today. Glass artists of Murano are and have historically been famous for their lampworking methods of making glass. Today, the island’s oldest factory still in operation is Antica Vetreria Fratelli Toso which began its business in 1854.
Murano glass makers traditionally used tools such as pliers, tongs, blow pipes, special iron rods, and clippers to work the glass into a multitude of shapes. Artisans had to work as apprentices for many years to ever become glass masters; glass masters enjoyed the celebrated task of shaping the soft glass before it could harden. The tools were used to handle the glass as it went from being a molten liquid to a malleable solid before finally hardening. Typically, glassmakers required materials like melting agents, nitrate, sodium, arsenic, and coloring agents to produce their trademark glassware.
Murano has been a glassmaking center longer than anywhere else in the world. Its industry faced many ups and downs over time. Its most recent competition comes from Asia where glass is popularly made more inexpensively. Nevertheless, Murano glassmakers continue their art. The island also boasts a glass museum, Museo Vetrerio which displays centuries-old glass along with contemporary examples and also features a glassmaking exhibit. While little glass survives from Murano’s earliest glassmaking times, many historic Murano and Venetian glass is held by many of the world’s most prestigious galleries and museums.