THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO MARVELOUS MURANO GLASS

November 26, 2018

While it’s true gold and gemstones hold their own appeal, few things compare to the allure of Murano glass. Although manmade, Murano glass possesses an unearthly beauty that makes it uniquely covetable. Beacause the production of Murano glass was exiled to the island of Murano in 1291, Murano glass is also shrouded in mystery. Coupled together, these traits have powered the Murano industry for over five centuries. Curious to learn more about this fabled Italian glass? Read on.

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By Canaletto, 1722 – 1723 (Public Domain)

The Secret Island of Murano

Although Murano glass is named after Murano Island, located just off the north coast of Venice, the craft actually originated in Italy proper. In 1291, however, the Venetian government ordered that glassmaking operations be moved to Murano to reduce the risk of fire.

While scholars agree that fire was a threat to Venice, most believe the Republic’s orders were intended to shield Murano craft secrets. Regardless, the craft thrived once headquartered in Murano.

Because of the high demand for Murano glass, glassmakers were treated like royalty on Murano. They were granted the right to wear swords and marry into aristocratic families. On the downside, glassmakers were considered so indispensable that they were essentially held captive on the island. There were dire consequences for those glassmakers who tried to escape Murano, including head bounties and death. For centuries, Murano mythology only worked to increase its appeal.

Murano Map, circa 1600 (Public Domain)

What Makes Murano Glass So Special?

Like many of the novelties that came out of the Renaissance, Murano glass pushed the boundaries of innovation. Unlike glass from earlier eras, Murano glass is incredibly thin. So thin, in fact, that it was used as a poison detector for a time.

Murano’s sheer versatility also put it a notch above previous glass forms. In addition to holding vibrant color, Murano glass’s appearance can be manipulated through the addition of stones, bubbles, and mixing different colors of glass together. Murano glass is also extremely pliable. It can assume delicate, gravity-defying shapes—a trait that became especially revered when craftsmen began delving into Murano chandeliers in the 1700s.

Photo courtesy of Dog Fork

The Fall & Reconstruction of the Murano Empire

Due to Bohemian imports, Murano glass demand began to wan by the 17th Century. By the 19th Century, China was also a competitor. Then, in a final blow, Napoleon abolished the Venetian Guild of Arts in 1806. By 1820, only five furnaces were still producing glass in Murano.

With the stage set for a rebirth, Paolo Venini, a lawyer with a side passion for glassmaking, joined forces with Giacomo Cappellin in 1921 to reinvigorate the craft. While the new venture folded slightly after its start, Venini subsequently launched Venini & Company and Cappellin launched M.V.M. Cappellin & Company in 1925, both of which focused on Murano glass. Over the next few decades both companies worked to progress the medium into the 20th Century.

With two major companies powering Murano in the early 1900s, creative branding and artistic vision became factors in the craft for the first time. You’ll notice that Murano glass from the early 20th Century focuses on vivid color, intricate pattern, and compelling shapes. Iconic design collections like Venini & Company’s Fazzoletto vase, or handkerchief vase, were also introduced during this time. Across the way at Cappellin & Company, notable designer Carlo Scarpa was hired on as artistic director. While there, Scarpa took an interest in thicker glass, as well as sturdy form. After transferring to Venini, Scarpa introduced Sommerso glass. The submersion technique, which creates two-tone glass, allowed for the development of Murano’s now-iconic two-tone bowls.

Photo courtesy of Jean-Marc Fray

Murano Glass Dictionary

Among the most captivating qualities of Murano glass is the sheer breadth of color and forms it can assume. Here, we outline some of the most common techniques used to shape and color Murano glass.

Calcedonio – This late 15th Century technique utilizes calcedony stone to give glass the illusion of semi-precious stone banding..

Filigrana – A process in which colored glass canes are inserted into molten Murano glass. The effect is glass with an intersecting threadwork design that mimics cracked ice.

Lattimo – Now commonly known as milk glass, Lattimo was first introduced by Murano glassmakers in the 16th Century. Lattimo is an opaque glass that imitates porcelain.

Millefiori – Literally translating to 1,000 flowers, Millefiori consists of molten glass being pulled into long rods and layered to mimic a bouquet.

Pulegoso – Pulegoso, which gives glass a mosaic or terrazzo effect, is achieved by blowing thousands of tiny bubbles into hot glass.

Sommerso – Developed in the early 20th Century, Sommerso consists of dunking a colored molten glass into a larger form filled with another color of glass. It is commonly used to create bowls.

Zanfirico – A technique commonly used to color iconic Murano handkerchief vases, Zanfirico utilizes filigrees of colored glass to create a striped detail.

Photo by Eric Piasecki / OTTO

How to Decorate with Murano Glass

Murano glass—statement or accent piece? Thanks to its versatility, there’s no one way to style Murano glass. Here our three of our favorite ways to make a statement with it. 

Color Theory

Murano is made for monochrome moments. If you’re looking to go all-out with a single color in a room, consider adding a a piece of Murano glass in your color of choice. Because it’s translucent, Murano is a simple way to add variety to an opaque palette.

Juxtapose Modern Murano & Antiques

It’s rare that an avant garde statement comes ready-to-assemble. One exception? Using a traditional Millefiori chandelier in a modern day space. Murano’s vivid color makes a Millefiori chandelier to trend more modern than it actually is and allows it to blend seamlessly with items like Tulip Tables and Womb Chairs. Alternatively, you can select a modern Murano disc chandelier for an old-world-inspired space. If you’re concerned about the look feeling too out-of-sync, use a mostly monochrome palette for your furniture, decor, and walls.

Cluster Murano Lighting & Vases

In a neutral space, a single colored Murano lamp or bowl can be a lightning bolt of interest. To make the shock of color feel like less of an anomaly, select a series of Murano vases or bowls in a similar color. The repetition of color will draw attention, ensuring your vice for Murano doesn’t go unnoticed.

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Lead photo by Eric Piasecki / OTTO