Amongst the picturesque islands of Venice, just a short vaporetto ride from the Fondamente Nuove, lies the famous island of Murano – known around the world as the home of glassmaking. This beautiful island boasts a rich tradition in the craft of glassmaking, and the products of the island, known as Murano Glass, is highly respected and sought after around the globe. But how did this small pocket of Venice become so synonymous with the world’s finest glass?
A Fascinating History
Glassmaking in Murano dates back to the Roman era, but the area really gained its reputation in 1291, when the Venetian Republic ordered all of the city’s glassmakers to move their workshops to Murano. Over the next centuries, Murano’s glassmakers became some of the island’s most respected figures, with many being permitted to join some of Venice’s most noble families. This luxury wasn’t without it’s downsides however – the quality of the glass was so vital to the reputation, identity and success of Murano that local glassmakers were forbidden from leaving the island in fear that the craftsmen’s secret techniques would be used elsewhere. In fact, by the end of the 16th century almost half of Murano’s 7,000 inhabitants were involved in the glassmaking industry in some way.
In the 15th century, Master Angelo Barovier discovered the process for producing clear glass (cristallo) that allowed Murano glassmakers to become the only producers of mirrors in Europe; something that further cemented the island’s reputation as the pioneers of glassmaking. This period also saw the development of a number of other progressive techniques, many of which were inspired by Chinese porcelain crafts – lattimo saw the artisans creating white glass made to mimic porcelain, while enamelling and gilding glass became extremely popular as well. Filigrana glass is made by using glass rods with inner threads of white, golden or coloured glass that are twisted or intersecting (aventurine), while ice glass appears finely crackled (ghiaccio).
Despite having already pioneered the creation of mirrors, the glassmakers of Murano weren’t ready to stop innovating. In the 18th century many Murano glassmakers started producing glass chandeliers, which they named ciocca – translating to bouquet of flowers, so called for their stunning appearance and characteristic decorations of glazed polychrome flowers. The most sumptuous examples of this style consisted of a metal frame covered with small elements of blown glass, transparent or coloured, with decorations of flowers, fruits and leaves, while simpler model had arms made with a unique piece of glass. Giuseppe Briati was the most famous producer of these chandeliers, and he focused his work on the creation of what are now recognised as the typical Murano chandeliers with multiple arms decorated with garlands, flowers and leaves, called ciocche.
Festa di San Nicolò
Murano glass is just as respected nowadays as it has been since its birth, and one of best times to discover the city’s wonders is during December’s Natale di vetro (Christmas of Glass), an annual event celebrating the traditional art of glassmaking. The highlights of the festival include a procession held along Murano’s Grand Canal that takes place in the midst of the Festa di San Nicolò - a week-long celebration held in honour of the patron saint of glass blowers – and the Tunnel of Lights, where precious, handmade Murano chandeliers, created by the most skilful masters of the island, light up the ancient portico of the San Pietro Martire cloister.