How to recognize the original Murano glass? The secrets of Murano artistic glass

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Last Updated on June 21, 2023 by Laura Teso

Can you recognize the original Murano glass? Difficult, when you are not in the trade. I will try to give you some useful information. But let’s take a step back.

Murano glass has more than a thousand years of history. For generations it has been the main, almost exclusive, activity of the island. Just think that some dynasties of glassmakers are still active today since the Middle Ages. The most fascinating thing for me is to see the masters and their helpers at work. With quick moves, almost a minuet, where everyone knows the right times in which to intervene. Marvelous.

The economic crisis of 2022 and the consequent exponential increase in the price of gas has put the sector in a severe crisis. The bills of the Murano furnaces have increased by 13 times. And it is unthinkable to recharge the cost of the product so much. If this continues, companies will be forced to close within a couple of months. And wait.

A label to distinguish the artistic Murano glass

This is why it is even more important to be able to recognize the true artistic Murano glass. How? Thanks to the protection work of the Promovetro Consortium. Since 1994 it has created a label with traceability that certifies the origin of the product. 38 companies are part of it, each with its own particularities and traditions.

Attention: it is absolutely not certain that, if a product does not have the label, it was not made in Murano. On the other hand, only if the Consortium label is present, you will have 100% certainty that it is really made in Murano.

The sticker is made with ultra-modern technologies and 5 security systems. It allows you to check the history of the product via QR code. It guarantees the authenticity of each piece, fighting the problem of counterfeiting. Therefore it protects both the producer and the buyer. 

Attention: the background is white or transparent. While the logo can be both red and blue. The different coloring depends on the type of processing carried out. In any case, if you have any doubts, on the Consortium website, you will find the list of member companies: www.promovetro.com

Venice Glass Week, the week dedicated to the world of glass

To promote this unique craftsmanship, the Venice Glass Week has also been organized for several years in mid-September. A week of events related to the world of Murano glass with a calendar full of activities including guided tours, workshops, shows and exhibitions located both in Murano and Venice. Find all the information on the official website: www.theveniceglassweek.com

Tour to discover the original Murano glass

In these days I had the opportunity to visit 6 workshops and furnaces and see for myself how much skill, passion, precision and dedication are needed to create vases, chandeliers, glasses, jewels, mirrors and many other glass objects appreciated throughout the world. Since each company has a catalog with an average of 1500 items, prepared according to 70-80 different techniques, you will understand how difficult it can be to tell you everything I have witnessed. 

They showed us and explained different techniques. And, while they have all been interesting, I think it would be long-winded to talk about them here in detail. What I find it fairer to do is to offer you some brief notions, as well as some interesting anecdotes and ideas, to be explored in person with a visit during the Venice Glass Week or on other occasions.

Interesting facts and about Murano Artistic Glass

  • Glass is made up of sand and soda in a certain proportion. Which is melted around 1400 degrees and then left to rest. And in Murano they produce it directly. And they also recycle it.
  • The workings for a single object can take up to 1 hour and a half.
  • When the object is made, it is not finished yet. If you left it in the air, it would burst in a short time. It must then be placed in the tempering oven, which is then turned off and gradually cools down. Obviously the tempering time depends on the size of the object.
  • Although today various modern tools and materials are used, wooden instruments are still used, which must be pear wood. The pear tree is in fact very resistant, even when wet, and does not have knots.
  • The space of the furnace where the glass masters work is called piazza, square.
  • The various companies collaborate with artists or fashion houses, even very important ones, who commission them for particular works.
  • I also discovered that there is a single furnace that produces murrine and basic semi-finished products for everyone. It is called Effetre. Without this company, the processes would be stopped. That is why it is very important to support the original Murano glass.
  • The gold leaf is often used to embellish artistic glass work. Even the production of gold leaves is an ancient art that now (to my knowledge) only one studio is pursuing, that of Mario Berta Battiloro. It starts from ingots to obtain very thin sheets that are used in many sectors. Enriching a glass object with a gold leaf requires skill and mastery to avoid damaging the gold with heat.
  • During my visit, I saw that the presence of some girls in the furnace aroused curiosity. I asked and was told they are on the rise.

Glass beads and conterie

  • A type of Murano glass beads, the conterie, are no longer produced. Fortunately, the Costantini Glass Beads company inherited a lot from his great-grandfather. When they finish, that’s enough. Luckily they still have 950 quintals!
  • The conterie are glass beads, more or less small, used to compose decorations. Such as flowers, bijoux, lampshades, trimmings, embroidery. 
  • In the past they were used as trading currencies. Just to give a striking example, think that the Norwegians bought the island of Manhattan from Native Americans in exchange for just a few handfuls of Murano glass beads.
  • Before 1950, when nylon bags were invented and introduced, beads were sold strung in skeins. And who prepared them like this? The impiraresse, or the Venetian threaders. They didn’t put them on one by one, huh. Instead, they held in one hand a series of long, thin needles fanned out, and quickly dipped them into containers filled with beads.
  • The most famous glass bead is the one called “rosetta“, small rose. Similar to a flower, in blue, white and red colors, it is composed by overlapping 7 layers of glass. It was created in the 15th century and mainly exported to Africa. It was then considered as real money. Apparently it was invented (or simply, it was she who gave it the name of rosetta) by Marina Barovier, daughter of one of the most famous glass masters of the time.
  • It is very fascinating to witness the lamp worked glass beads. It is done by hand, placing yourself in front of a burner and working with glass rods from which pearls and small figurative glass productions are obtained. You can customize them for shape, colors and geometric designs.

Murrine

  • Let’s now talk about the famous murrine. To create them, we start with rods created by melting different layers of overlapping glass of various colors in crucibles. The glass mass is then rotated on a bronze plate which gives it a cylindrical shape. The cylinder thus obtained is then pulled by the two ends by two workers to obtain the size of a long glass barrel. Which will then be cut into sticks of about 70 cm.
  • If during processing the glass mass is inserted into special molds, it is possible to obtain murrine with a heart, star or flower shape inside. The glass canes are then cut into small pieces and used for the production of glasses, vases, jewels.

Mirrors

  • Finally, mirrors. They weren’t invented in Murano, but here their art developed like nowhere else. Mirroring has been handed down for centuries by the Barbini family. It is a particular and complex technique. For a single mirror, 4 specialized figures are required, who deal with design, cutting, grinding, engraving, silvering and assembly.
  • In the second half of the 1600s, Louis XIV absolutely wanted to have Murano mirrors in his palace at Versailles. He then sent ambassadors to find masters willing to move to France. Four of them accepted. But the Muranesi, jealous of their secret, sent assassins to prevent their colleagues from operating. Two escaped the ambush. And thanks to them Versailles got its mirrors. One of the two survivors is precisely the ancestor of the Barbini glass masters, whose laboratory we also visited (V below).

The companies we visited

Gambaro e Tagliapietra, founded in 1974 and known for the production of glass objects: cups, glasses, vases, plates, animals, carafes, sculptures, candlesticks. Including limited edition custom collectibles. Over the years, he has experimented with new techniques to combine traditional wisdom with modern aesthetics.

Costantini Glass Beads, specialized since 2006 (but whose history dates back a century earlier) in conteria pearls and lampworking of pearls. This is how necklaces, bracelets, earrings and accessories for fashion and furniture are born.

Zanetti Murano, founded in 1956, where tradition has passed from father to son for 4 generations. The company has its specialization in sculptures of naturalistic subjects. They also collaborate with artists and designers for the creation of unique works.

Simone Cenedese, heir of his father Giovanni who founded the company in the 1970s. His production, in particular objects and chandeliers, has a touch of absolute modernity and lightness.

Barbini Specchi, a laboratory founded in 1927 and now in its third generation, specializes in glass engraving and above all in the production of both antique and modern mirrors.

Eugenio Panizzi has a mill founded in 1960. It produces objects, sculptures, necklaces and also carries out engravings, typing and glass fusion.

Finally, Ercole Moretti produces murrine. The company has been active since 1911. Here you can find both tradition and innovation. It is absolutely fascinating to visit its spaces with sticks of all colors, which are then cut to make the murrine.

Where to sleep and where to eat in Murano

I’m not a Murano expert. I’ll just tell you where we stayed and ate.

Food: 2 places. At the osteria al Duomo, right in front of the beautiful apse of the cathedral, which unfortunately was covered with scaffolding. The tavern has a pleasant internal courtyard for being outdoors, among the plane trees. And at the Busa alla Torre da Lele restaurant, with an outdoor area in Campo Santo Stefano. Both offer good local cuisine. Creamed cod, schie (delicious mini shrimp), spaghetti with clams, seafood risotto, fish fry.

Hotel: NH Murano Villa. Beautiful (and huge) hotel with a modern design. The lobby, bar, lounges and breakfast room were all very tasteful. My room was a double, all in white, beige and a few splashes of blue. The nicest touch was the shower, with the design of a classic red Murano chandelier. And can I say something? Finally so many sockets, without having to detach the table lamp, what the heck! 2 sockets and 2 USB for each bedside table, plus more at the desk. Hallelujah. Just a shame (you know I’m picky) for 2 details: the bathroom mirror light was too dim and the bed pillow too high for me (there were 2 choices, both high). Excellent continental breakfast, from sweet to savory.


Post in collaboration with Consorzio Promovetro Murano and the Veneto Region

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