History of Murano Glass
by Daniele Graziani
February 16, 2011
Before Murano Glass
The history of Murano glass is rooted in the history of glass in general. According to the treatise Naturalis Historia by the
Roman historian Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 AD - August 25, 79 AD), better known as Pliny the Elder, glass was invented by the Phoenicians
in the third millennium BC. The Phoenicians, who populated the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, invented (or perhaps we
should say: "discovered") glass as they lit a fire on sand they noticed that the sand melted in a transparent liquid. Glass
production of small items used for rituals or as ornaments developed in Egypt and Mesopotamia. But, perhaps, that account is not
accurate as some sources now point to
Mesopotamia as the birthplace of glass.
The most ancient glass artifacts have been found in
Egypt and date from the 16th to the 14th century BC. Those were mainly small objects
built by placing strings on glass around a nucleus, which would then be destroyed leaving the object intact.
Around the first century BC, the technique of blowing glass was developed in Syria and adopted in Egypt and in Rome. This technique
enabled the creation of more useful, larger objects such as bottles and glasses. By the first century AD Roman glass makers became very
accomplished and created, for example,
that still look very contemporary. One of the Roman centers for glass production had settled in Aquileia. Aquileia is located in the province
of Udine, not too far from Venice. As the Roman empire began to collapse, the area became a favorite path for invading barbarian tribes and
it is easy to speculate that among the citizens of the area who fled and founded Venice were some glass makers from Aquileia.
Roman Glassmakers Settle in Murano
After the fall of the Roman empire (476 AD), glass production was concentrated in Northwestern Europe: especially in England, France,
and Western Germany. After the 8th century glass production experienced extremely fast growth in the Middle East which influenced the
production of glass mosaics in the byzantine empire. Venice was part of the byzantine empire until the 9th century and it is easy to
infer that the local glass making industry greatly benefited from Venice's flourishing trade with the Middle East.
The most ancient glass fragments excavated in the island of Murano and in nearby Torcello date back to the 7th century. The first
document that proves the existence of a glass industry in Murano is dated 982 AD. In the 13th century glass makers in Murano organized in
an "Arte", a professional association. In 1271 a law named "Statuto Capitolare di Venezia" protected Venetian glass production prohibiting
imports and preventing foreign glass makers from operating in Venice. In 1291 glass production was ordered to transfer to the island of
Murano, as the risk of fires was too great for a city of predominantly wooden buildings.
As the industry grew in importance, the Republic of Venice adopted further protectionist measures to prevent foreign competition. Masters
who left the city could no longer be readmitted to the Arte when they came back, and the exportation of tools and even raw materials was
strictly prohibited. The status of glass makers was elevated to the point that if the daughter of a glass maker married into nobility, any
children would be able to inherit the title.
Murano Glass Writes a Piece of History
The 15th century marked a highlight in Murano's glass making history. Glass was opaque and irregular until Angelo Barovier, one of
the greatest masters of all time, invented the process that allowed the production of perfectly clear glass that closely resembled
crystal. This development gave Venice exclusive access to a new material that was well suited for the creation of even more precious
items. Barovier understood that glass was opaque due to impurities so he developed a complex process to remove all impurities. The
discovery caused Murano glass to dominate glass production for over 200 years. Barovier also invented calcedonio, a type of glass that
imitates agate and colored marble.
In the 16th century Murano glass popularity reached its peak. New technological innovations paired with extraordinary creativity made it
possible that Murano glass was sought after throughout the world. As the clientele became more diverse the artists responded by drawing
their inspiration from a variety of styles and ultimately started experimenting with mixed styles that became true works of art. Murano
glass art was so sought after that even great painters of the time depicted it in their works.