Murano Glass History
The origins of glassmaking in Venice go back to the times of the Roman Empire when molded glass was used for illumination in bathhouses.
Blending Roman experience with the skills learned from the Byzantine Empire and trade with the Orient, Venice emerged as a prominent glass-manufacturing center as early as the 8th century.
By the late 1200’s, Venice was firmly established as the center for the production of the finest quality glass objects.
This was confirmed by the city’s establishment of the Glassmaker’s Guild which laid out rules and regulations for the craftsmen that produced Venetian glass.
The secrets of glassmaking were highly guarded, and the purpose of the guild was to ensure these secrets were maintained and also ensured profitability of the industry.
In line with these objectives, a 1271 law prohibited the importation of foreign glass or the employment of foreign glassworkers.
In 1291, an even more radical law was passed that helped more firmly establish Venice as the glass-manufacturing center – the law required all furnaces used for Glassmaking be moved to the island of Murano.
This law was enacted under the guise of “Fire Prevention” as much of the structures on the over-populated island of Venice were constructed of wood.
Most historians agree that while fire prevention may have been a legitimate reason for this, the real motive was to isolate glass artisans to further guard their precious glassmaking secrets.
A subsequent law passed in 1295 confirms this suspicion as the glassmakers were forbidden from ever leaving the city.
This isolation was rewarded, however, and glassmakers had a privileged social status allowing their daughters to marry into the wealthy upper class, sometimes even into noble families.
This enabled the Venetian government to ensure that glassmaking families continued in their family trades and that trade secrets stayed within these families.
This control of the glassmaking industry along with Venice’s location at the crossroads of the trade routes of the East and West gave Venice a monopoly power in manufacturing and selling quality glass throughout Europe that lasted for centuries.
Venetian glass reached its peak of popularity in the 15th and 16th centuries.
In the 15th century, master glassmaker Angelo Barovier discovered the process of making clear glass, called “Cristallo”.
This ability to produce clear glass allowed Murano glassmakers to become the only producers of mirrors in Europe.
The peak in popularity allowed for greater creativity and glassmakers began to experiment with new techniques like enameling and gilding brought over from other glass-making regions like the Middle East.
Murano & Venetian Glass began a gradual decline in the 17th century as techniques for glassmaking in other parts of the world were developed.
The 18th and 19th century saw a resurgence in the popularity of Murano and Venetian glass when in 1854 six Toso Brothers opened the firm Fratelli Toso that initially produced household glass items but then switched to reviving forgotten techniques of the past.
Five years later, Antonio Salviati came to Venice where he practiced law to open a factory dedicated to the production of traditional Murano glass.
He saw an opportunity to revive the craft by producing tiles that could be used to restore old Venetian mosaics, and he hired the best Murano masters to work in his factory.
The culminating event in reviving Murano glassblowing was the exhibition set up by the Archive in 1864 to display all the recent glassworks and reignite competitive spirit among the craftsmen.
On the heels of that exhibition were other international shows, such as the highly successful Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867 where Salviati exhibited over 500 works made by his firm and received international acclaim and multiple medals.
This success and publicity led to the complete revival of Murano, which once again became a booming economic center, employing 3,500 people by 1869, and a famous destination.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, another important trend arose in Murano – Glass Animals, which remain popular today.
Authenticity of Murano Glass
Like most anything worth collecting, Murano Glass is often imitated by makers hoping to pass their pieces off as genuine Murano Glass.
Authentic Murano Glass pieces are strictly produced on the island of Murano in the city of Venice, Italy.
Today, modern pieces are only considered authentic Murano glass if they have a sticker like the one pictured below, with the firm number at the top in red numbers.
Any other object with a Murano label, other than this one, should be considered “Murano Glass-style”.
Like most genres of collecting, collectors of Murano glass take the authenticity of their collection very seriously and having an imposter in their collection would not be welcome.
If the piece you are looking at does not have a label or is not signed by the artist, there are other ways to determine whether your piece is authentic.
First, look at the quality of the piece – Murano Glass pieces should be of the highest quality.
Is the bottom completely smoothed and finished?
Are the features of the object well-defined or are they sloppy or overly simplistic?
No two pieces of authentic Murano Glass are the same.
Look for slight differences between two pieces of the same design.
Natural imperfections will vary between each piece.
Authentic Murano Glass often comes with a Certificate of Origin, detailing the name of the artwork, the name of the master, and the year of production.
List of Well-known Popular Murano Glassmakers
Fratelli Toso (1854– )
The Salviati Family (1859– )
Umberto Bellotto (1882–1940)
Ercole Barovier (1889–1974)
Paolo Venini (1895–1959)
Carlo Scarpa (1906–1978)
Alfredo Barbini (1912–2007)
Tobia Scarpa (1935– )
Davide Salvadore (1953– )
Massimo Micheluzzi (1957– )
Simone Cenedese (1970s– )