The Art of Glassmaking on Murano
Glassmaking as an art form was perfected in the early-13th century on the islands of Murano in the Venetian Republic of Italy. The process was a carefully guarded secret for centuries as the glassmakers of Murano expanded their expertise to include enameled glass known as smalto, multicolored patterned glass called millefiori, milky glassed referred to as lattimo, crystalline glass, and even glass resembling gemstones so convincingly only an expert would know the difference. While time has passed and modern mass-production has replaced many traditionally made items, the glassmakers of Murano continue to use age-old techniques to expertly craft a wide variety of items, some contemporary and others in the style of a bygone, but treasured, era.
It is thought that the process of using heat and air to turn sand into glass was invented by the Egyptians in the late bronze age. Visitors to the Murano Glass Museum, situated on the Palazzo Giustinian will have the opportunity of viewing superb examples of glass items dating back to ancient Egypt and right through to modern times. The museum is housed in the gothic-style former residence of the bishops of Torcello. The museum was founded and opened to the public in 1861 and is currently run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia (MUVE).
History reveals that the islands of Murano were originally occupied by the Romans and later by people from Oderzo and Altinum. Its economy back then was supported by fishing and the production of salt and it was governed by a Grand Council, even minting its own coins. From the 13th century Murano was administered by Venice, and it was in 1291 that all the glassmakers in Venice were moved to Murano, apparently because of the risk involved in working with fire. Products made in Murano, particularly the elaborate chandeliers that adorned upper class dwellings, were much in demand in Europe.
Murano became a holiday retreat for wealthy Venetians in the 15th century and many of these stately buildings remain today. Landmarks and attractions to take note of include the Church of San Pietro Martire, which is home to many artworks by Giovanni Bellini, and the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato, as well as a number of operating glassworks, most of which are open to the public.