What is Murano Glass?
Murano Glass is one of the most refined and renown type of crafts in the world. World famous and produced since 1500 years by expert Venetian glass masters, it is created exclusively by hand on the Venetian island of Murano since the 13th century.
Prior to this, glass factories could be found also on the island of Venice but the presence of glass factories on the island was made illegal after too many fires caught the city and the local government decided to move the production of glass requiring an oven to the island of Murano.
Since then, only the production of small pieces of Murano Glass, using the torch technique, is allowed in Venice historical center.
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A word about glass in general
An ancient legend says that glass was created by chance on sandy river banks in Syria: Phoenician merchants used saltpeter blocks to make campfires on the sand, and the mix of these elements and the heat produced this new surprising material.
Starting from 1000 B.C.E, glass spread throughout the Balkans and southern Europe, reaching the whole Mediterranean around the IV Century B.C.E.
The Romans were the first who focused on glass production and made its use widespread.
In the I Century B.C.E glass-blowing was invented in Palestine, giving new possibilities and flexibility in the making of objects.
Ancient crafts from Syria, Palestine, Greece and especially Roman production are thought to be a source of inspiration for Murano glassmakers.
Murano Glass History
The first Venetian glassmakers copied the renowned and elegant glasswork of Middle East production and even imported raw materials from directly from that area.
By the XIV Century, however, Venice had twelve glass factories producing everyday objects and became the leader in the art of glass, thanks to the decline of the Islamic production to which Venice itself contributed.
A key to the Venetian success was the invention in Murano of clear glass by Angelo Barovier: glass was now transparent and pure like rock crystal!
The success was immediate, and transparent glass works decorated with fusible enamels became a must for rich families, doges, and even the Pope.
The sixteenth century saw the birth of new techniques such as the “ghiacciato”, or iced glass, and the “filigrana”, or filigree, which is still very popular today.
It was during this time that the shift from artisanal to artistic production took place, delivering new shapes, colors and combinations highlighting the glass masters’ skills.
The seventeenth century witnessed the invention of “avventurina”, an extremely complicated process for creating a shiny and rock-hard vitreous paste, as well as the first emigration of glassmakers from Murano to other parts of Europe.
The migration came as a result of the financial crisis that struck the Serenissima after the devastating plague in 1630 and the birth of Bohemian glass.
Nonetheless, Murano glass makers’ fame was untouched and the surnames such as Barovier, dal Gallo, Serena or Ballarin were internationally recognized as dynasties of glassmakers.
To contrast the growing competition of the Bohemian glass in mid XVIII century, Giuseppe Briati got hold of the secrets of the Bohemian production and adapted it to the Murano fantasy and expertise.
Briati’s greatest merit, however, is the invention of the famous glass chandeliers with multiple crystal arms, decorated with festoons, leaves and multicolored flowers, which boosted once more Murano’s popularity.
Apart from chandeliers, the demand was strong also for engraved and decorated Murano mirrors, whose complex procedure was known since the XVI century.
After the fall of the Serenissima in 1797, the Venetian guilds of arts and trades were abolished by Napoleon in 1806 and from 1815, when Austria took over, Bohemian products flooded the markets.
Many Murano glass masters emigrated, and countless secrets and techniques were lost. Apart from a constant beads production, the depression forced many glass furnaces to close: in 1820 only 16 furnaces were left and only 5 of those produced blown glass.
Here, particularly skilled and proud glass masters reacted to the crisis with innovation and revival of ancient techniques: researches on chalcedony and murrine, and the rediscovery of filigree and aventurine, sparked the rebirth that took place in the second half of the XIX century.
In the 1860s, Toso and Salviati furnaces produced ever more complex works testifying their incredible skills, producing crafts of unrivaled beauty and complexity.
These pieces got displayed and admired in exhibitions worldwide, making Murano once again the center of artistic glass production.
In the 1900s, furnaces began doing occasional works together with artists and designers, but in 1921 Venini decided to create the role of “artistic director”: the union between art, design and the Murano masters’ skills produced a great variety of forms of expression and styles.
Since then, artists such as Guido Cadorin, Alfredo Barbini, Umberto Bellotto, Carlo Scarpa and many others, began working on glass production with growing frequency. The works resulting from this union won prizes and awards at the Biennale and many international exhibitions.
After WWII, both the newly invented “submerged” glass technique (the overlapping of multiple layers of transparent glass) and the traditional blown glass technique worked using the “mano volante” (freehand), delivered once more pieces of outstanding quality and beauty.
The last big revolution took place in the 80s, when Murano glass masters, on one hand, felt the need to make their own creations rather than just producing the ideas of others, and on the other hand artists decided to learn themselves the art of glass making and glass blowing or to work in close contact with the masters to have a tight control over the making of their ideas and concepts.
Ever wondered how Murano glass is made? Here’s a complete answer.
Already since childhood, everyone knows how glass looks like and its physical characteristics… but how is it made?
Because of the enormous role the famous glass produced on the island of Murano has played and still plays in the history and the wealth of Venice, we decided to collect here some information regarding this ancient art.
New techniques have been invented and others have been improved over many centuries, but the basics of Murano glass production are still those of over 600 years ago.
- Sand: silica 70%
- Soda: sodium carbonate
- Chile saltpeter: sodium nitrate
The raw materials are mixed together in the heat-resistant crucible and then fused in a kiln that can reach up to 1.400°C.
The Murano glass in its basic composition is colorless. The colors are obtained by adding small amounts of minerals, oxides, and chemical derivatives to the base composition of the glass powder.
The kilns, “fornaci”, used nowadays on Murano have a large crucible of maximum capacity between 20-25 quintals. There are also kilns made up of a number of smaller crucibles (with capacity varying from 10kg to 2 quintals), the smaller crucibles being used for colored and opalescent glass.
Modern-day kilns on Murano are equipped with heat retainers and with equipment that makes it possible to control temperature and the rate of fuel combustion.
The temperature of the fused viscous paste is reduced from 1400°C to 1100°C.
At this temperature, the paste is “solid” enough to be taken from the kiln and worked before the glass sets (at around °500C).
If it is to be worked by hand, as in Murano, then this process of solidification must take place slowly.
At the end of the working process, the glass is still at a temperature of 500-600°C. It must then be cooled slowly: glass is a poor conductor of heat and therefore the inner and outer surfaces can cool at different rates, creating tensions within the material that might lead it to crack (perhaps sometime after it has cooled completely).
This slow cooling process takes place in what is known as “annealing ovens”.
Tuning Glass Properties
There are some raw materials, called flux or melting agents, which soften at lower temperatures.
The more sodium oxide present in the glass, the slower it solidifies. This is important to do freehand glasswork (“a mano volante”) because it allows the glassmaker more time to shape the material.
Other raw materials that an artisan might add to a glass mixture are sodium (to make the glass surface opaque), nitrate and arsenic (to eliminate bubbles) and, at last, coloring or opacifying substances.
Creation of Complex Pieces
The Master sets up and coordinates his “Piazza”, a team of 2 or 3 people which help him in the preparation of the piece: the “serventino“, handling a blowpipe, takes a mass of incandescent molten glass from the kiln and rolls it against an iron plate (“bronzin”); the “servente” blows in the pipe creating a balloon (“colletto”) which is then rolled again against the iron plate, to ensure symmetry.
As soon as this set up is done, the Master has to start working immediately and quickly on the viscous mass whose temperature is rapidly dropping.
Not only the drop of temperature below 500° would make the glass totally rigid and fragile, but happening so quickly it would create tensions between the outer colder surface and the inner hotter core and lead the glass to break.
During the whole process, the Master has to work quickly and interrupt its work for his team to heat up the craft back in the oven and immediately continue the creative process as soon as the temperature is at a safer (higher, but not too high else it would lose its shapes) temperature.
If the piece requires more material, further masses are added and crafted with the same processes.
Once the Master is done with the creation, the piece is put in another kiln (“muffola”) at a lower temperature which is then slowly decreased (“tempera”) until it reaches the room temperature.
Famous Murano Glass Techniques
Murano’s glass history boasts a very long list of techniques, and their improvements, over centuries of high production and constant innovation. Techniques can be divided into two main categories: primary processes and secondary processes.
Primary processes are those that occur by changing the initial mix before the melting process in the oven.
Secondary processes are those that happen after the initial mix has been created and are used to modify the final result by torching and fusing or when cold (“a freddo”) by carving or sculpting.
Amongst these many techniques, the most used and appreciated are:
- Avventurina (colored glass with iridescent particles
- Enameled glass
- Murrina & Millefiori (sliced rods of colored glass fused together)
- Vetro Pezzato (multiple colored glass melt together, giving a patchwork look)
- Gold and silver leaf works
Murano’s glass centuries-long history boasts a great variety of techniques and their improvements. Techniques can be divided into two main categories: primary processes and secondary processes.
Primary processes are those that occur by changing the initial mix before the melting process in the oven; secondary processes are those that happen after the initial mix has been created and are used to modify the final result by torching and fusing or when cold (“a freddo”) by carving or sculpting.
We’ve made a “short” list of the most used and appreciated Murano glass techniques:
Murano Glass Making Main Techniques:
Fluohydric acid is used for etching the glass. The effect is similar to sandblasting but thinner and finer.
Avventurina is a translucent glass of a yellow-brown color, in which copper microcrystals are dispersed causing a golden reflection.
It is prepared by melting the basic mixture for transparent colorless glass with the addition of cuprous, iron and lead oxides.
After the glass melt in the chamber, the cooling process is performed very slowly: the best result is obtained by switched off the oven and leaving it to cool off on its own for several days.
Once at the room temperature, the crucible has to be smashed and the “avventurina” is found under a layer of colored glass.
This glass found its highest application in Murano in the mid-nineteenth century and it was often used for crafting pieces for royal families of that time.
Neodymium oxide is put in the molten glass, causing a change of color with different lighting conditions: artificial light gives warm tones, fluorescent light gives blue tones, and natural light gives lavender colors.
Cristallo di Murano
Invented by Angelo Barovier in the XV Century, the Cristallo di Murano, or “vetro bianco”, refers to a transparent and colorless glass.
This glass is produced with the addition of sodium calcium and, unlike the Bohemian crystal, it is suitable for freehand crafting and blowing.
Invented by Francesco Andolfato in the ’60s, the Doublè technique is used to preserve a golden or silver decoration applied inside a glass work: a decoration is engraved on a transparent glass with the use of a wheel, is then golded or silvered, and ultimately covered with a second layer of glass.
At this point, the composition is put into an oven, so the parts join each other, encasing and protecting the decoration.
In use since the XVI century, the “filigrana” (“filigree”) is done by heating up a series of colorless glass rods with a colored inner core which are arranged next to each other on a metal plate and heated up.
A cylindrical mass of incandescent glass is then rolled over the rods in order for them to adhere to it. Once this process has completed, the piece is worked on and finished as desired.
Fenicio is a kind of decoration obtained by applying “lattimo” glass around the body of an item in a wavy pattern, which is obtained by using a metal comb called “maneretta” which is passed over the surface.
This technique was used by ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians for decorating perfume bottles and cruets, therefore the name.
“Foglia d’oro” is a technique for including a thin 24 karats gold leaf inside of the glass. A small quantity of glass is molten, blown, shaped in a form of a cylinder and rolled over gold leaf laying on a plate in order for to attach.
Afterward, more glass is applied to the item and the leaf is enveloped in the glass. Once the master starts working on this mass, the thin gold leaf breaks and appears as a mix of golden straws.
Foglia d’oro is a technique for including a thin silver leaf inside of the glass. A small quantity of glass is molten, blown, shaped in a form of a cylinder and rolled over silver leaf laying on a plate in order for to attach.
Afterwards, more glass is applied to the item and the leaf is enveloped in the glass. Once the master starts working on this mass, the thin silver leaf breaks and appears as a mix of silver straws.
Under a transparent colorless layer of glass, another mass containing small colored particles gives the impression of smoke.
During the making of the inner mass, its grooved surface is exposed to the smoke of a wooden oven, so that particles of unburned carbon and ash adhere to it.
The entire surface is then coated with a layer of molten transparent glass.
Ghiacciato is a technique which gives the surface of the glass a kind of “craquelure”.
The effect is obtained by immersing the still hot piece for a few seconds in cold water and putting it back in the furnace. This process can be repeated several times in order to gain a stronger effect.
This procedure created a contraction of the volume in a thin outer layer, while the core remains hot, causing multiple small superficial cracks. Reheating the piece eliminates residual tensions, preventing the cracks to extend any further.
In the 20th Century, this technique was very appreciated for the making of bracket lamps, for the special way they would diffuse the light.
Microcrystals of calcium and sodium fluorides in the glass reflect light, determining both opacity and white “milky-like” coloring.
In order to obtain this effect, fluorine compounds, such as cryolite or fluorine spar, are added to the glass mixture.
Introduced in the XVI century for items decorated with multicolored enamels, the Lattimo was later used as a complement to other processes.
At the end of the XII century, Venice and Nuernberg became popular for their innovative mirrors’ production, consisting of a layer of transparent glass covered on one side with a thin layer of silver or aluminum.
Nowadays, modern mirrors are produced by spraying, under vacuum, the surface of the glass with a thin layer of silver or aluminum and then fixing it via electrolysis.
A bundle of multicolored glass rods is arranged so that its cross-section displays a certain design.
This composition is then heated to its melting point and pulled until the desired diameter. After cooling, the rod is cut into disks of variable thickness, ranging from a few millimeters to a couple of centimeters.
These disks can be used in two main ways. One possibility is to set up some murrine on a metal plate, heat them up to their melting point in the kiln and then roll a cylindrical mass of incandescent glass over them, in order for the murrine to adhere to it.
Another possibility, largely used for the executions of dishes and bowls, consists in arranging the murrine inside a mold, filling the empty spaces with the glass mixture, and then heating it up to form a single object.
After the cooling process, the item is finished off with the use of a grinding wheel.
Millefiori or “a thousand flowers”, is a particular kind of “murrina”, in which the cross-section of the rods used for the initial bundle is made of concentric layers of different colored glass with a star-shaped core.
The use of the “millefiori murrina” is the same as the use of the “murrina”.
Molatura is a process for cold-processing glass surfaces, obtaining desired decorations.
There are two main methods: one uses silicon carbon tips, has short operating times, but gives rougher results; the other, with the use of copper tips dipped in grinding powder, has longer operation times but gives more accurate and elegant results.
Due to its composition, however, Murano glass does not perform greatly with such techniques.
Opalino, is a slightly different version of “Lattimo”, and it creates an effect similar to an opal, an iridescent white-blue stone.
This technique, invented by Ercole Barovier in 1940, consists of applying colorless glass on the surface of an object during its production.
When the object is then reheated, the particles are partially melted and adhere perfectly.
Due to the pleasant light diffraction effects, this technique is appreciated for bracket lamps.
Enamels are applied on the item while cold, and once the decoration is finished, the item is placed in a small “muffola” at 550-600°C where the enamel will fuse without deforming the item.
Enamels must fuse at a temperature lower than that of the glass, their colors should not fade at high temperatures, and they should have a coefficient of expansion as close as possible to that of the glass of the item, to prevent breakages during the cooling stage.
The technique of the glass blowing dates back to the I century B.C.E. The mix of glass is put in the furnace until it melts.
The blowpipe tip is heated up and is used for taking the molten glass and rolling it on a flat sheet of steel called “bronzin” (marver): this forms a cool skin on the exterior of the molten glass blob and shapes it.
The Master then blows air into the pipe, creating a bubble, and if needed more glass can be cast over it to create a larger piece.
Once the final size has been reached, the bottom is finalized and the blowpipe is removed from the top to provide an opening or to finalize the piece.
In the “sommerso” or submerged, a layer of colored glass enclosing air bubbles and gold leaves is coated with a colorless transparent layer of a few centimeters.
Using an air compressor, sand or alumina powder is sprayed on the glass item, causing micro fractures that make it opaque.
The effect which can be controlled by changing the intensity of the air and the size of the particles, has the advantage, unlike the “etching” technique, of not making use of toxic components.
Glass fusing is a technique used to join glass pieces together by partly melting them: two or more pieces of glass are laid on top of each other or overlapped and are warmed until a temperature of 750-850°C, at which point the glass will fuse onto each other.
Glasses with different coefficients of expansion cannot be fused together, for upon cooling the piece would crack.
Shopping for Murano Glass Art and Jewellery, the frequently asked questions
What kind of objects are made in Murano Glass?
You can find two main types of objects made in Murano Glass: beads used to make beautiful jewels and art pieces ranging from sculptures to vases, glasses, and chandeliers.
How much does Murano Glass Art cost?
Murano Glasses price go from 30 euros for the most simple jewellery piece to possibly six figures for art pieces such as antique chandeliers, for example.
Murano Glass Jewelry:
Earrings, bracelets and simple necklaces in authentic Murano Glass can be found for anywhere from 30 euros to under 100 euros. The more beads the more expensive a Murano Glass jewel is. Rich necklaces usually cost up to a few hundred euros.
The prices vary with the number of beads and their rarity. Beads which require more work or are no longer in production such as antique beads, tend to cost more than most common ones and so do the jewels created with them.
Murano Glass Art:
Murano Glass Factories produce entirely hand made art pieces such as chandeliers, sculptures, and vases which are pure art and request long hours of expert work. Prices are the ones you would expert for art and one who wants to buy Murano Glass Art should be ready to spend anywhere from a few thousand euros.
The prices for Murano glass art vary according to several factors:
- The techniques used to execute the piece. The more complex, the more work required, the more expensive the piece.
- The brand you are buying—especially Barovier & Toso, Moretti, Pauly, Seguso, and Venini—command higher prices than others because of the quality of their work and the long tradition behind their names.
- The fact that the piece is designed or signed by a big-name designer as recently well-known fashion designers have designed pieces for some of the top glass producers. These signed pieces limited editions come at a premium.
- The history of the piece is another factor determining the value of it. Documented antique in good condition, can be sold for six figures at auction, for example.
Where should I buy Murano Glass?
Because of the sea of fake Murano Glass, we recommend you to buy jewels or artwork only at trusted vendors.
You should buy Murano Glass jewelry directly at local artisans’ boutiques and workshops.
There are plenty of shops selling overseas mass produced products pretending to be “made in Italy” or in Murano Glass.
To be sure not to spend your money in the wrong place and to get the real thing while supporting local businesses, both look for the handpicked and vetted shops on this list and for our logo on their door and windows.
If you buy a digital pass, called the Venezia Autentica Friends’ Pass, you will also unlock a 10% at all our partner local businesses while helping us to keep on supporting them, for free. Read more about the Friends Pass, here.
Chandeliers, glass, vases and all Murano Glass pieces should be bought only directly at the Glass Factories in Murano or from authentic galleries in Venice.
Here again, many shops you can see in Venice Historical center carry fake Murano Glass. Besides the fact that they are not at all original handmade Murano Glass, these pieces are usually nowhere close to the beauty of the actual work of Murano Glass Masters.
If you are decided to acquire an authentic piece in Murano Glass and want to be sure to get real Murano Glass Art and the experience which goes with it, contact us at the form below.
Please be aware that prices are “high”, usually starting in the few thousands euro, as each Murano Glass chandelier, vase or sculpture is unique and made entirely by hand by highly trained & skilled glass masters.
Ready to spend anywhere from a few thousand euros to more in a unique original Murano Glass piece? Get in touch with us to make sure you spend your money in the right place
How can I be sure that a Murano Glass piece is authentic?
The only way to be sure to buy authentic Murano Glass is to buy from official and vetted boutiques, galleries or factories referred to you by a trusted expert source. Indeed, vendors of ‘knock out’ do not hesitate to lie about the authenticity of their product or to produce fake certificates of authenticity.
Learning more about Murano Glass: Demonstrations, Workshops and Museum
Can I watch Glass Masters at work?
When visiting a glass factory to buy glass work, the first step will generally be to take you to a 10-30 minutes demonstration of the glass master’s work.
This is beautiful to see and helps you understand the work behind the pieces you will then see as you will usually be able to ask questions to an expert explaining what is happening in front of your eyes.
However, this is not meant to be a free demonstration for visitors who do not attempt to buy anything and is hardly worth the travel to Murano if what you want to see is the work of the artisan. Glass Art sellers are highly skilled and will immediately see through your ‘game’ and quickly usher you out of their factory or else take you on a long walk through the showrooms working hard to sell you something.
This behavior from the sellers is understandable as glass factories are expensive to run and, like anywhere else, rely on customers money to survive.
The best and most rewarding way to see the work of glass masters is either to pay a high fee for a private demonstration at a factory or discover the art of breadmaking instead to enjoy a fully personalized and immersive experience and give it a try yourself.
Can I learn to work Murano Glass myself?
Yes! As a visitor, you can be initiated to the art of Murano Glassmaking by using the torching technique to make Murano Glass Beads.
You can book a bead making experience with an expert artisan, here. If you are looking to learn enough to be autonomous and are in Venice long enough to dedicated numerous hours to your training, don’t hesitate to let us know. This is something we will happily help you with, too.
It is not possible to learn to work bigger pieces as it would be too difficult and dangerous for a beginner.
Do you recommend me another activity to learn more about Murano Glass?
If you are interested in the incredible history and beauty of Murano Glass, we strongly recommend you to visit the Murano Glass Museum
This museum collection showcases unique glass pieces going from as far back as to the 5th-century B.C.E, until the contemporary glass crafts. A must see!
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