Made on the Venetian island that bears its name, Murano glassmakers have been at the forefront of European glass technology for many centuries, and have developed or refined multiple methods including crystalline glass, enamelled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (aventurine), multicolored glass (millefiori), milk glass (lattimo), and imitation gemstones made of glass.
Located 1.5 km (0.93 mi) from the main city Venice, Italy, Murano has been a commercial port since as far back as the 7th century. It is believed that glassmaking in Murano originated in 8th-century Rome, with significant Asian and Muslim influences, as Venice was a major trading port. Murano glass is similar to the 1st-century BC Greek glasses found then shipwreck of Antikythera. Murano’s reputation as a centre for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is the largest proportion of Venetian glass.
Murano’s glasssmakers were soon the island’s most prominent citizens. By the 14th century, glassmakers were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state, and their daughters permitted to marry into Venice’s most affluent families. However glassmakers were not allowed to leave the Republic. Exportation of a professional secret was punished by death. Many craftsmen took this risk and set up glass furnaces in surrounding cities and as far afield as England and the Netherlands. By the end of the 16th century, three thousand of Murano island’s seven thousand inhabitants were involved in some way in the glassmaking industry.
Because of competition from Asian and Eastern European imitations, as well as changing consumer taste, the number of glassmakers on the island has declined from 6,000 to around 1,000 over the last 25 years. It remains a large industry, however, and the artisans on Murano still hand craft everything from contemporary art glass and glass figurines to Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers, as well as tourist souvenirs.
The Murano glass is made up of 70% silica sand, added to 30% of other substances called “fluxes” and “stabilizers” (soda and lime). These added “fluxes” allows the glass to be melted at a lower temperature, and the “stabilizers” prevent the glass’s solubility in water. When the glass melts at a lower temperature, it is possible to create homogeneous and bubble free Murano glass.The Murano glass in its basic composition is colourless. The colours are obtained by adding small amounts of minerals, oxides, and chemical derivatives to the base composition of the glass powder. This is the Murano magic that creates infinite combinations of transparent colours, crayons and alabasters.