Murano, the island of blown glass and furnaces (part 1)

Hello everyone! This time I bring you to Murano, another island in the Venice lagoon, famous for its blown glass. On the occasion of the glass week, which usually takes place in mid-September, I took the opportunity to visit the Glass Museum, which I had never had the pleasure of seeing.

Murano is a classic destination that many combine to visit Burano, as it is just halfway between Venice (Fondamente Nove) and Burano. Apart from the very similar name, these two islands are very different. If on the one hand we find a smaller and super colored island, on the other we will find a mini Venice with its “Grand Canal“.


Murano has many buildings in Venetian Gothic style and most of the facades are left with exposed brickwork. In addition, the most unique feature is the presence of many industrial buildings, where they produce and blow glass, called fornase.

Background History:

There are various hypotheses on the origin of the name but it seems that it derives from one of the doors of Altino, the Amurianae gate (in Latin), which then became a real locality: Amuriana villa or Murrius. It is mentioned for the first time in 840 in the Pactum Lotharii, along with other Venetian locations such as Rivo alto (Rialto), Olivolo (San Pietro di Castello), Metamauco (Malamocco), Chioggia and Torcello. Still remains the most populated island in all of Venice, with the exception of the Lido and Giudecca, with about 4500 inhabitants, but back in 1291, when glass production moved from Venice to Murano, it counted as many as 30,000 . This island remained for centuries almost independent from Venice, with its own government (first mayor was Nicolò Contarini), with its own laws and its own currency, the Osella.

The island therefore has medieval, Roman-Byzantine origins. The Basilica of Saints Mary and Donatus, first edifice of 950, but rebuilt in 1125 is a perfect example of Byzantine architecture, made up of Istrian marble and columns that differ from one another.

In the tenth century in Venice, it seems that glass production had already started, but that due to the frequent fires it was moved to Murano. Legend has it that glassmaking was circumscribed within the island in such a way that the secrets of glassmaking did not expand elsewhere.

The Blown glass

It is not clear when the glass processing in Venice started precisely but some testimonies place the first productions around the Xth century. It seems that the technique of blown glass comes from the Romans who learned it in turn from their contacts with Syria. As I mentioned before, since the production moved to Murano, trade and its diffusion improved considerably, but it is only around 1400 that the Murano glass became famous all over the world, perhaps due to the decline of Islamic production.

One of the most precious works, crystal glass, was created on this island by Angelo Barovier, around 1470. This invention was quite innovative for the time because they had succeeded in producing a completely transparent glass, without imperfections, comparable to the rock crystal. Around 1500 the fame of Murano glass grew even more thanks to the creation of “flying hand” glass objects, that is to say free hand, a technique that is still used. The glass is then modeled and adapted to represent small or large objects, from animals to flowers, from the famous chandeliers to vases and goblets.

Even the category of master glassmakers was so renowned that only their daughters could marry a patrician without losing his rank of nobility. Those who worked and blew glass were absolutely forbidden to leave the Republic of Venice until 1630, when glass production came into crisis as a result of the last pestilence. The blown glass objects had lost market and some master glassmakers expatriated in France, and towards the end of the 1600s for the diffusion of glassmaking techniques in Europe the first Bohemian glass appears.

Glass Museum:

Initially this palace, in flowery Gothic style, served as a patrician residence and in 1689 the bishop of Torcello, Marco Giustinian moved his headquarters here and bought it and then donated it to the diocese. In 1840 it was sold to the Municipality of Murano and, on the initiative of Antonio Colleoni, it became a museum/archive in 1861. The museum itinerary consists of an exhibition of glass works ranging from findings from the Roman era to Renaissance works. In addition to these, we find real pieces of contemporary design and some of them are still on the market. Here you can find the most emblematic and famous objects of the most famous Murano glass factories that have made history. Just to name a few: Barovier e Toso, Dal Gallo (which reproposes the diamond point engraving), Serena (inventor of ice glass and filigree).

View on the loggia of the Glass Museum
View on the loggia of the Glass Museum

I briefly mention other dynasties of glassmakers who became famous in the 1500s: Ballarin, the Bortolussi, the Dragani, the Mozetto and the Della Pigna. Returning to our time, however, I can not fail to mention the most famous glassworks from the 1900s onwards: Venini (the very famous collaboration with Carlo Scarpa), Seguso, Salviati and Nason Moretti.

Some pieces for sale in the Venini showroom, also in Murano.
Some pieces for sale in the Venini showroom, also in Murano.

Well, for today it’s all, I hope you enjoyed this little introduction to the island of Murano and glass art. Stay tuned that soon more insights and trivia will come!

Xo xo!

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