History of Venetian Glass Making
Venetian glass is a method of glass production developed and refined over many centuries in Venice, Italy, primarily on the island of Murano. It remains a world-renowned centre for colourful, elaborate glass of the highest quality and craftsmanship – be it in glassware, mirrors, chandeliers, or beads and jewellery. This guide to the history of Venetian glass manufacture can be read in conjunction with our Glossary of Venetian Glass Making Processes which describes in more detail the processes discussed below, some of the science involved, and who a technique or process can be attributed to.
Early Origins of Venetian Glass
The first documented record of Venetian glass production dates back to 982 and references a Master phial and bottle maker named Dominicus Phiolarius. A further reference in 1090 mentions a Petrus Flabianicus (or Peter of the Flacons), involved in the same activity. However, pre-dating this documentary evidence, by some 450 years, archaeological discoveries made in the 1960s suggest the presence of glass workers and furnaces in the Venetian lagoon, centred around the island of Torcello and also Aquileia on the mainland. These sites appeared to be primarily focused on producing glass tesserae (from the Greek meaning ‘four-sided’) which were small glass or stone squares used as mosaic tiles for decorative purposes, possibly to be used in local churches or the villas of wealthy noblemen. This process harks back to far earlier production techniques from the Roman Empire when moulded glass was used to bring light into bathhouses.
Several centuries were to pass before the artisans of the Venetian area embarked on what was to become a fully-fledged and unique period of decorative glass production, evolving over time to reach world renown and for a period a virtual monopoly industry in Europe.
This shift in emphasis was largely due to Venice’s growing status as a cultural bridge between the west and the east. This was based on its geographic location on the Adriatic – facing the Balkans, and with the Middle East and Asia to the south and east respectively; the fact it was strategically well appointed on a series of islands with a strong navy and merchant fleet; and had a basic devotion to trade, and the power and influence that trade brought them. This role was initially focused on those countries bordering the Mediterranean, but also embodied the Holy Lands and the Orient. In war and peace the Republic of Venice focused on commercial advantage be it negotiating exemption from duties when trading in Byzantium in the 11th century, or the creation of trading bases, or protected ‘colonies’, in the Holy Land and Central Asia in the early 12th century. This policy was to give the Republic of Venice near monopoly status in glass production across Europe for some 300 years.
As hinted at above, glassmaking was very much an Eastern skill, and glass-making traditions were already well established in many countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Palestine and Syria. Although Venice was influential in these regions, Islamic glass didn’t have any great presence in Venice until the capture of Constantinople in 1204 by the Crusaders on their 4th Crusade. This resulted in an influx of fleeing Byzantine glassmakers into Venice bringing with them skills and techniques that were totally new to Europe. By the end of the century, Venetian glassmakers had adapted many of these imported processes, alongside their own, to obtain unique results. This influx of techniques was to be repeated again in 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans.
Political and commercial expediency then played an important part in ensuring that these techniques were retained within Venice and production was regulated to maintain a competitive advantage. In 1271 a legislative edict (or capitulary) was declared with the sole intention of regulating the art of glass making for the purposes of commercial advantage. From this point forward the importation of foreign glasswork into Venice was forbidden and foreign glassmakers were prevented from working in the city.
In 1291 the small independent art glass factories that were now starting to flourish in Venice, in particular around Rivo Alto and Dorsoduro, were moved across the lagoon to the island of Murano where they were to remain to this day. This was enforced relocation was ordered by the Maggior Consiglio or Great Council. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period this was a political organ of the Republic of Venice, made up of adult males from the aristocracy with a life long hereditary right to sit on the council. It functioned mainly as a pool from which members could be drawn for other councils and committees of State, such as the Senate, and the more secretive Council of Ten (established 1310), all under the chairmanship of the Doge.
A detail from an unattributed engraving showing the island of Murano.
The stated aim of this measure was one of safety due to the risk of furnace fires engulfing the over populated Doges city, which was largely constructed of wooden buildings. In part this would be a sensible precaution, but it also served to keep production isolated away from the prying eyes of competitors. A further indication that this may be the thinking behind the declaration is to be found in the fact that the mirror makers, who also made use of furnaces, were allowed to remain in the city. Four years later another capitulary made this reasoning more blatant as the emigration of Venetian glass makers abroad was expressly forbidden. To insure that the glassmaker’s secrets were never revealed, harsh sentences were to be meted out to individuals who leaked secrets to foreign nationals, or left Venice without official permission. It was also rumoured that the Maggior Consiglio even hired assassins to capture or kill artisans who left the island. Those that did leave were forbidden in their absence from ever working in the glass making industry of Murano again. However, as we will see later many craftsmen did take the risk and setup furnaces in surrounding cities and as far afield as England and the Netherlands.
A section from a larger view of Venice with the island of Murano in the distance (circa 1600 attributed to Danckerts in the style of the famous woodcut print by Jacopo de’Barbari circa 1500).
On Murano, as they had done with the Arsenale (the fortified complex of state owned shipyards which at its height occupied some fifteen percent of Venice), the Venetian authorities aimed to guard what was now seen as a vital industry by keeping it in isolation – albeit in a gilded cage. Incentives and conditions for employees were regulated by the Guild setup to control the glass making industry. The Guild of Glassmakers, Ars Fiolaria, established in 1224, came under the direct authority and protection of the Republic of Venice.
The positive result of this direct management and the concentration of the glassmakers in a single location was a cross fertilisation of ideas and techniques, and an increased artistic fervour, which quickly made Venice the principle glass producer within Europe. In turn, Murano’s artisans were proffered a new social standing in Venice. By the 14th century, glass makers were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state, and found their daughters married into Venice’s most affluent families. Through this clever approach, the Venetian Republic ensured that the glassmakers encouraged their offspring to carry on the trade, ensuring that Murano glass making secrets stayed within families further fuelling the creative process leading to greater innovation and commercial success. As anticipated these glass recipes or partite became highly prized and were kept strictly secret, handed down from father to son and transcribed into secret books. For example, Antonio de Pisa of Murano passed on detailed instructions on the use of lead compounds for producing lattimo or milk glass. It was a formula that became an important and profitable product for the Venetians. Milk glass provided Venice with a cheaper substitute for imported Chinese porcelain, which was so prized within Europe.
Over the next 500 years, through further edicts and management through the Guild, political rule would ensure quality control, introduce raw material agreements, and provide enhanced trade protection from foreign competitors as required. This direct approach, along with Venice’s location at the crossroads of trade between East and West, gave Venice monopoly powers in the manufacture and sale of quality glass throughout Europe that was to last for centuries.
Venetian Glass Making in the 15th & 16th Century
The Renaissance, from 1400 to 1640, had a profound affect on Italy, and Murano in particular. At the start of the 15th century it is recorded that the island of Murano now housed 3,000 glass blowers. This was in part due to another influx of fleeing craftsmen following the siege of Damacus in 1400, to be followed by the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks. With this new skill base Venetian glassmakers adopted another borrowed process, which had its origins in Syria. This was the ability to apply enamel and gilding to glass, which in turn influenced the creation of new dark coloured glasses to offset this externally applied decoration.
Some years prior to this discovery in 1441, the Grand Council’s declarations of 1271 were re-written and extended in the Mariegola dell’arte dei verieri da Muran. The legislation now covered all the phases of glass making – from production through to sale, as well as taxation, and the formalising of the relationship between owners, glass masters and other workers in the factories
Then, at the mid point of the century, Angelo Barovier produced what was to become known as vetro cristallo or cristallo veneziano. This was a pure, bright, completely transparent crystal glass. The impact this discovery was to have on the design and appreciation of stem glassware, goblets, dishes and bowls across Europe was unparalleled. The clarity of this glass brought its own magic but its chemical make up allowed for light and elegant designs, which up until to this point would have been near impossible to achieve with any regularity.
An early example of Venetian cristallo glass dating from 1580
As technical achievements in glass brought change so to did changes through exploration, trade and politics. By the end of the century the Portuguese, or more specifically Vasco da Gama, had circumnavigated the Cape of Good Hope reaching India and returning to Lisbon. Over time this new route had the effect of rendering ancient land based trade routes across the North African Sahara largely obsolete. The Gulf of Guinea, on the west coast of Africa, became the new commercial centre for sea borne trade, with the Portuguese, then Spanish, Dutch and English ships unloading glass beads with which to barter. Some 40 years later in 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, which in time brought trade and colonisation to the Americas.
On the left: Vasco da Gama (c 1460 to 1524) On the right: Christopher Columbus (c 1451 to 1506)
Man-made glass was a largely unknown quantity in many of the new countries that these routes would open up. When combined with the high intrinsic value that Africans and Native Americans placed on decorative items, European merchants were set to make vast profits trading glass beads, metal beads, and porcelain beads for natural resources. This would give rise, to what can only be described as a Golden Age for glass bead production across Europe, centred on Venice and Bohemia, from the early 16th century to the close of the 18th Century.
In 1592, in order to meet this new market growth, the Venetian authorities allowed the glass factories to once again expand beyond Murano to many of the other islands in the lagoon of Venice, but in turn the ban on glass makers emigrating outside of Venice was extended to cover the whole Republic. To give an indication of this uplift in production, it is known that in 1525 Venice had 24 glassworks but by 1606 the register of glass bead producers alone had reached 251. By 1764 over two million pounds of beads were being made yearly in Venice alone. It has also been estimated that over 100,000 different Venetian glass trade bead designs were commissioned in Murano during this 200-year period, each with their own colour variations. Below you will see some examples spanning this period of production.
1. Seven Layer Chevron Bead. Late 1400s 2. Seven Layer Chevron Bead. Late 1400s 3. A Speo Bead. Late 1600s 4. French Ambassador Bead 1850s 5. Baule Face Bead. Late 1800s 6. Black Decorated Bead. Late 1800s 7. Cornaline D’Aleppo Bead. Late 1800s 8. Tabular Bead. Late 1800s 9. Large Chevron Bead. Late 1800s 10. Square Edge Floral Bead Late 1800s 11. Yellow Black Swirl Bird. Late 1800s 12. Millefiori Bead. Late 1800s
Most Venetian glass trading beads output was destined for Africa, with ships having been loaded with beads for ballast, returning with spices, ivory, palm oil, and gold. This trade was to take on a more sinister nature as the price of African gold became less competitive when compared with gold from America. The rulers of Ghana, Benin and the Ivory Coast were therefore encouraged to supply a human cargo from the African interior to provide much needed workforces for the colonial powers.
Driven ever onwards, the 16th Century saw Venetian artisans gain even greater control over the colour and transparency of their glass, mastering a variety of new decorative production techniques. In 1527 Filippo Catani patented zanfirico or retorti filigree, which saw fine milky white canes included in transparent cristallo glass and twisted as a spiral. This was taken a stage further with latticinio in which rods of opaque glass, usually white or gold, were incorporated in the body of the clear glass vessel and worked in lattice patterns.
Venetian mould blown latticinio ewer late 16th century in vetro a retorti with gauze cable and threads and a Venetian latticino lobed drinking vessel, both late 16th Century. (Source – Christies)
Calcedonio, a method of simulating marble and other stones was also introduced. Ghiaccio, or ice glass, was developed around 1570. This being clear glass with very fine internal cracks. As the quality of glass improved diamond engraving also became possible, originating first in Prague but then quickly picked up in Venice. The glassmakers of Murano had responded well to new levels of demand and were producing more elaborate designs and more technically accomplished glassware products. Venetian mirrors and chandeliers were also in great demand. Visits from crowned heads, popes and the leading businessmen of the time were the norm.
However, by the end of the 16th century Venice had lost its monopoly on transparent glass, as demand for Venetian glass became such that a number of glassmakers began migrating across European cities – one such glassmaker of note being Jacopo Verzelini who was given licence in London in 1575 by Queen Elizabeth I.
An engraved glass goblet from 1586 produced in the London glasshouse of Jacopo Verzellini 1522 – 1606. (Source – British Museum).
Merchants who had experience of commerce with Murano also set up their own factories in France, Germany, Belgium and Austria, run by Muranese expatriates, producing their own versions of Venetian glass or à la façon de Venise, meaning in the Venetian style. They were modifying classic Venetian designs and techniques to suit local tastes and the raw materials available to them. One such individual being Wolfgang Vitl who in 1534, at the request of Emperor Ferdinand I, opened one of the earliest glasshouses producing à la façon de Venise glass in northern Europe. This workshop employed both Venetian glassblowers and local craftsmen to produce these imitations, which were larger and more robust than the originals they were copying, but ultimately less expensive than importing them from Venice. Such was the importance of this enterprise that Vitl succeeded in persuading the Emperor to grant him the sole right to produce colourless glass across the Hapsburg territories for 20 years.
Venetian Glass Making in the 17th Century
In 1630 the plague, which had been ravaging populations across Europe since its arrival in Europe in 1348, forced the Venetian authorities to relax their employment laws to ensure that they had the skills and manpower to continue to meet demand. Italy proved particularly susceptible to the plague in part due to the fact it had a different political structure to other European countries. Composed of city-states, each city was left to manage with the devastation of the plague on its own. While they often attempted to work together, the loss of life had a much greater impact on each city than it did on centrally organized nations such as France. In Venice, eighty thousand lives were lost in just seventeen months. On the 9th November, for example, five hundred and ninety-five people died. These enormous fatalities greatly affected the city and in turn glass production, shipbuilding, lace, wool and silk making. By the time that the plague had run its course, politics in Venice had been forever altered and the Republic was in decline.
To add to Venice’s political and commercial troubles in 1662 Christopher Merrett translated a treatise called the L’Arte Vetraria written in 1612 by Antonio Neri. The subject matter was glass making, and in particular the lead glass used in Venetian enamels, glassware and imitation precious stones. This paved the way for the production of English lead crystal glass by George Ravenscroft. The son of a merchant with close ties to Venice, Ravenscroft was the first to produce clear lead crystal glassware on an industrial scale. With the cultural and financial resources necessary to revolutionise the glass trade, his work allowed England to overtake Venice as the centre of the glass industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. With the aid of Venetian glassmakers, in particular Seignior Da Costa, and under the auspices of the Glass Sellers Guild, Ravenscroft sought to find an alternative to Venetian cristallo. By 1673 he had overcome all production issues and was granted a protective patent. This gave rise to an intense production of glasses, cups, plates, cups, jugs and bottles all made from lead glass.
!/guides_and_information/Venetian_Glass/09_BBLB_Ravenscroft_Lead Crystal_Glass_1677.jpg(History of Glass – George Ravenscroft Lead Glass)!:http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O5164/drinking-glass-roemer/
A George Ravenscroft lead glass mould blown Roemer drinking glass dating from 1677. (Source – Wilfred Buckley Collection V&A)
Venetian Glass Making in the 18th and 19th Century
The 18th century saw the seeds of decay start to grow in Murano. Worker unrest at the closure of furnaces saw unemployment increase. As we have seen the decline in the importance of Venice as a trading and political power also meant it was less able to police its restrictive rules designed to protect its glass industry. Occupation by the French under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797 and then the subsequent transfer of Venice to the Hapsburg Empire in 1814 brought the Venetian Republic to an end.
Glass production in Murano suffered enormously under Austrian rule as regulations were introduced which overtly favoured the other major glass making in the Empire, namely Bohemia. This saw Bohemian crystal, thicker, heavier and often engraved, grow in popularity to the point of rivalling Murano glass’ popularity the century before. Taxation of raw materials, limited markets, and the abolishment of the Guild in 1805 saw a sharp decline in the number of furnaces – down to 24 in 1800 which further shrank to 13 by 1820. Master glass makers were now scattered across Europe and the remaining Murano producers chose to focus on the decorative beads, small bottles, and trinkets needed for overseas colonial trade.
This decline did not bottom out until the mid 19th century with the establishment of a new family glass furnace on Murano, called Fratelli Tosco in 1854. This was followed by the arrival on the island of an industrial lawyer by the name of Antonio Salviati in 1859 who set up another furnace. Fratelli initially focused on utilitarian everyday glassware, whilst Salviati focused on producing glass tiles for both the repair of Venetian mosaics and the creation of new ones. The master glassblowers who gravitated towards these two firms were among the many who had kept the glassblowing traditions alive, maintaining the art of their fathers and grandfathers, rediscovering the ancient glass making techniques, including Lorenzo Radi, who had devoted considerable efforts in the 1850s to resurrecting some of the sophisticated glassmaking techniques from Murano’s first heyday in the 1400s. This steady reversal in fortunes was further aided by Vincenzo Zanetti who developed the Glass Museum of Murano, which in reality was more of a school which alongside the new furnaces slowly began reintroducing lost glass blowing techniques.
The output from the Salviati factory gained international recognition at both the London World Exhibition in 1862 and the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867, in large part due to Antonio’s marketing abilities. At the London event his firm captured international attention with its prize-winning display with Salviati boldly using the occasion to present products in chalcedony glass, a medium that Radi had revived in 1856.
Salviati Chalcedony glass carafe from 1856
This recognition of artistic merit was paralleled by commercial success, and the firm soon inaugurated a sales office in London in 1868. These initiatives opened new markets for Venetian glass beyond those in the Hapsburg Empire. Eventually, Venice was freed from the Austrians in 1866 and became part of the Kingdom of Italy, and gradually the glassmaking industry of Murano began to expand commercially and many new innovative firms were established such as Fratelli Barovier and Francesco Ferro & Figlio.
Beyond drawing on the centuries old traditions of glass making in Murano, including the rediscovery of murrine, a glass making technique from Roman times, new influences were needed to re-inspire the industry. The Murano glass workers were constrained by the fact that they had always worked within an artisan tradition rather than an artistic one. This inspiration needed began with the art nouveau movement at the end of the centre, but was further fuelled and redirected by the avant garde reaction to this movement within the European art world. These new ideas and innovations from across Europe were evident for all to see at the 1895 Venice Biennale.
The official poster from the 1895 Venice Biennale
This had the effect of stretching the ideas of the glassmakers, who began to form informal groups to discuss and exchange artistic ideas. One such group, associated with Cà Pesaro and the Bevilacqua La Masa Foundation, included a number of artists who would bring new design ideas to the Murano glassmakers. Prominent among them being Vittorio Zecchin, Napoleone Martinuzzi, Hans Stoltenberg-Lerche and Teodoro Wolf-Ferrari. The scene was now set for the 20th century to be a new Golden Age for Venetian glass.
Venetian Glass Making in the 20th Century
Prior to the start of the 20th century, years of repeating traditional forms had caused the quality and popularity of Murano’s blown glass to decline. Then, a succession of innovative glass blowers began to reinvigorate Murano as a centre for art, abandoning repetitive production and challenging tradition with inventive techniques, whilst embracing contemporary styles and tastes. By the 1950s, Murano glass had redoubled its historical importance and was again leading the world in glass making. But with two World Wars and the economic uncertainty that follows conflict it was not an easy journey.
By the turn of the century the Fratelli Toso glassworks now had a fifty-year heritage, being primarily recognized for its works with murrine. But even with this strong base the outbreak of World War I interrupted the progress of both Toso, and the recovery of Murano glassmaking in general. The Salviati & Co glassworks (by now without Salviati and having been renamed Compagnia di Venezia e Murano), had arguable a greater international reputation than Toso, but it ceased production in 1909. This followed the sale of the company by its British backers, archaeologist Austen Henry Layard and antiquarian Sir William Drake, to a Venetian businessman named Tosolini, who owned a number of shops in St. Mark’s Square. Under his management, the company stopped production and focused solely on commercial distribution from these retail outlets.
It was left to a partnership between two Milanese outsiders to bring about the change that had been promised in Murano at the turn of the century. Paolo Venini and Giacomo Cappellin came to Venice from Milan with the express intention of rejuvenating the Venetian glass industry. In 1921 they formed Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Cappellin, Venini & C.
Paolo Venini 1895 – 1959 (Image source Venini)
Paolo Venini was a lawyer with no experience of glass blowing, but he did have an entrepreneurial spirit, an openness to new ideas, and a willingness to collaborate with other artists and specialisations, such as architects. Giacomo Cappellin, a Venetian by birth, was an art dealer who owned and operated an antique shop on Milan’s via Monte Napoleone (now famous as the premier street in the Milan fashion district). The company’s focus was to be the modern design trends that were sweeping the world and that had been the centre for debate in artistic circles in Milan. The designs were to be along simple lines, using the thinnest of transparent glass, and with delicate colours, all contrasting strikingly with the fashion for heavy decoration of the time. They brought in Vittorio Zecchin as artistic director and began production.
Vittorio Zecchin 1878 – 1947 (Image source Venini)
Their new designs were immediately recognized both in Italy and abroad. Much of this success was down to the fact that from the outset Venini’s main goal was to expand his company’s influence overseas. To achieve this he sought the collaboration of the most talented artists of the time. He also worked alongside his designers, with the aim of directing taste whilst personally checking every collection produced under his name. His confident direction, along with the fine quality of the items produced assured the glasshouse this critical and commercial success. With the confidence that this gave the company they opened sizeable retail shops in Venice, Paris and Milan. However, the partnership didn’t last long, and in 1925 Venini and Cappellin parted company after just four years, to establish independent glassworks.
Paolo Venini started Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Venini & C. in 1925, hiring Napoleone Martinuzzi as manager of his new venture. At the time Martinuzzi was a sculptor overseeing the Murano Glass Museum. He developed the pulegoso technique which in 1930 proved to be a watershed moment, since opaque glass completely broke with tradition and opened up a whole new direction for creative thinking and experimentation. The first vases made by Venini with this new material were hailed by the critics who saw the Murano glass industry rising up again.
In turn Giacomo Cappellin also opened a new furnace in 1925, Maestri Vetrai Muranesi Cappellin & C., retaining Vittorio Zecchin as artistic director as well as the majority of the master glass blowers from the previous firm, notably Diego Barovier, Attilio Moratto, Malvino Pavanello and Giovanni Seguso. In 1926 Zecchin left the firm to be replaced by a then unknown architect, Carlo Scarpa. This firm was to close in 1932 due to financial mismanagement, but not before Scarpa had made a reputation for himself that in time would see him become one of the most innovative artistic glass workers of the century. His first few years at the firm saw production continue to be influenced by Zecchin’s designs whilst the new company found its feet, but Scarpa then found his own direction with the re-introduction of historical techniques, the use of opaque glass, and bright colours.
Carlo Scarpa 1906 – 1978 (Image source Marcello Ottolenghi)
The closure of the Cappellin furnace coincided with the departure of Napolene Martinuzzi from Venini to set up his own furnace in partnership with Francesco Zecchin, an engineer by education, who had also worked at Venini’s. This left an opening at Venini for an artistic director which Scarpa filled. His use of innovative techniques flourished during his time at Venini & Co. In addition to creating new ways to work with molten glass such as sommerso, he developed new surface treatments including corroso, battuto, fasce and pennellate. Paolo Venini also started to take a more active role in the day to day operations of the glassworks and began co-designing works with Scarpa. His diamante glass pieces date from 1936, and he created the murrine romana in collaboration with Scarpa. Following the war, he created bottles with brightly coloured stripes, vessels in mosaico zanfirico and mosaico tessuto, windows in vetro mosaico, and battuto vessels. In collaboration with Fulvio Bianconi, in the early 1950s, he created vessels such as the fazzoletti, or handkerchief vase, which is a classic example of the production of the time and were enormously successful.
Another entrepreneur and designer of note, who rose to prominence in the 1930s, was Ercole Barovier, son of Benvenuto Barovier. With his brother, Nicolo, they took over the creative direction of their father’s company, Vetreria Artistica Barovier & C. In 1939, after the brothers went their separate ways, the company was renamed Barovier & Toso C., after Ercole brokered a successful merger with Decio and Artemio Toso who were now managing the Fratelli Toso. Over the course of his 50-year career, he invented numerous decorative techniques which contributed significantly to the rejuvenation of art glass. In the 1920s Barovier was known for his work with murrina and the totally original primavera glass collection. He spent much of his time during the 1930s experimenting with new multi-coloured effects, finally perfecting a technique he named colorazione a caldo senza fusione. In the post war period his interest turned to traditional techniques and which he would reinterpret. During the 1950s and 60s he presented new interpretations of the tessere technique.
Ercole Barovier 1889 – 1974 (Image source Barovier & Toso
It was through Pauly & C., a company born in 1903, and a series of mergers and acquisitions that the early work and designs of both Salviati and Cappelin were returned to production. The company was formed by Emilio Pauly, Alessandro Hirscber Hellman, Vittorio Emanuele Toldo and Ernesto Graziadei. In 1919, Pauly & C. and Compagnia di Venezia e Murano were both purchased by the Milan Società Anonima Sanitaria, which subsequently resold them the following year to Gaetano Ceschina of Milan. This newly merged company, now renamed Pauly & C. – Compagnia Venezia Murano, resumed production of glass on the island of Murano in 1925.
The entrance bridge to Pauly & C.
The company grew again in 1933 with the acquisition of Maestri Vetrai Muranesi Cappellin & C. (or MVM Cappellin), the glass company formed in 1925 by Giacomo Cappellin following his split away from Paolo Venini. This gave Pauly & C. the rights to the works and designs of MVM Cappellin, including the historicaly important early designs and techniques of Vittorio Zecchin and Carlo Scarpa.
Through the efforts of all of these firms, and their master glassmakers, Murano glass survived the test of two world wars. With new market places opening up through increased travel and tourism the 1950s and 1960s were to be an artistically memorable period. Production also moved into new areas with the growth of specialist lighting companies, as well as jewellery producers, and high end glass sculptors and artists. Other areas were also largely lost to Murano due to inflated productions costs. Bead making being one such industry where production shifted to Japan, India and China, with only the Czech Republic retaining a strong market presence in Europe. The few bead makers that have survived in Venice and Murano have had to find a niche at the high end of the market.
The next challenge for Murano, and indeed for any prestigious products, proved to be the problem of counterfeiting. In the 1980s onwards, factories in Asia began producing ‘replicas’ of classic Murano glassware, vases, and millefiori objects, including beads. Over the next twenty years the sophistication of the production processes began to mirror those of Murano but at a fraction of the labour costs. By way of an example, the bead making industries in India began making rosetta or chevron beads in the mid 1980s using pre-prepared sections of hot strips of glass that were then composited together to form a cane. Due to the limited nature of this manufacturing process these ‘impostors’ could be identified by the misaligned points to the chevron stars. Ten years in later in China chevron beads were made from moulded star canes in exactly the same manner as Venetian chevron beads and it is now difficult to tell the Chinese version from a bead produced in Venice. Murano glass bead secrets are secret no more!
Set 1 – Venetian Rosetta bead circa1650
Set 2 – Indian Chevron bead circa 1980
Set 3 – Chinese Chevron bead circa 2005
In order to maintain the integrity of their products and to safeguard their profits the Promovetro, or glassmakers consortium, came up with a Murano trademark (designed by French artist Mathieu Thibautto ), a lilac sticker that displays a cana de soffio or glass blowers pipe and the Italian words, Artistic Glass Murano. The intention being to make their glass more difficult to copy. This was registered with the European Union in September 2002 and can be seen below:
Today, some of the most important brands of glass in the world are still produced in the historical glass factories on Murano. Most notably Barovier & Toso, Venini, Pauly and Seguso. With Barovier & Toso officially recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as one of the 100 oldest companies in the world, formed in 1295. With this depth of history and such a long list of notable master glass makers it is only fair to forgive them the quality of the glass souvenirs they sell to tourists following their strictly timetabled furnace tours!
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