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Murano glass is glass made on the Venetian island of Murano, which has specialized in fancy glasswares for centuries. Murano’s glassmakers led Europe for centuries, developing or refining many technologies including crystalline glass, enamelled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (aventurine), multicolored glass (millefiori), milk glass (lattimo), and imitation gemstones made of glass. Today, the artisans of Murano are still employing these centuries-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass and glass figurines to Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers, as well as tourist souvenirs.
Today, Murano is home to a vast number of factories and a few individual artists' studios making all manner of glass objects from mass marketed stemware to original sculpture. The Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum) in the Palazzo Giustinian houses displays on the history of glassmaking as well as glass samples ranging from Egyptian times through the present day.
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 center 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. Marriage between glass master and the daughter of the nobleman wasn't regarded as misalliance. However glassmakers were not allowed to leave the Republic. Exportation of 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. French revolutionary armies occupied Murano in 1797.
Murano glass was produced in great quantities in the 1950s and 1960s for export and for tourists.
In the 18th century Murano glassmakers started to introduce new products such as glass mirrors and chandeliers to their production. In history these glass chandeliers became popular after the iron, wood and brass era of chandeliers, and they were such a success that instantly brought chandeliers to a new dimension. The first Murano glass chandeliers to be produced by Venetian glassmakers date back around the year 1700. This new type of chandelier was called "ciocca", literally bouquet of flowers, for the characteristic decorations of glazed polychrome flowers. The most sumptuous of them consisted of a metal frame covered with small elements in blown glass, transparent or colored, with decorations of flowers, fruits and leaves, while simpler model had arms made with a unique piece of glass. Their shape was inspired by an original architectural concept: the space on the inside is left almost empty since decorations are spread all around the central support, distanced from it by the length of the arms. One of the common use of the huge Murano Chandeliers was the interior lighting of theatres and rooms in important palaces.
Giuseppe Briati was the most famous producer of these chandeliers. He focused his work on the creation of what are now recognised as the typical Murano chandeliers with multiple arms decorated with garlands, flowers and leaves, called "ciocche". Born on the island of Murano in 1686 from a family of glassmakers he apparently had the chance to work in a Bohemian glass factory, where he learned the secrets of working the crystal, that at the time was taking over venetian glass leadership on the European market. Briati contributed significantly to improve the fortunes of the Venetian glass, which after having experienced a period of success, was heavily decayed. His furnace became famous for the production of Bohemian inspired glass with a twist of eccentricity, that through colors and decorations gave them the look of triumph of polychrome flowers. Giuseppe Briati created what it's now called Rezzonico Chandelier, whose name derive from the first chandelier of its kind, that represents the classic Murano chandelier. It was designed by Briati for the noble venetian family Rezzonico and hung in their palace along the Grand Canal, now famed venetian museum under the name "Ca' Rezzonico". This kind of chandelier, completely realized by hand, required a particular working by the glassmakers due to the arms being formed by many small pieces of glass. Every shape of glass had to be masterly executed because any outsize piece wouldn't fit to be mounted between the others. Rezzonico chandelier is an example of the ability of the Italian craftmanship to adapt to changes and to offer new and innovative solutions to the mutation of architectural needs.
Murano glass chandeliers have a unique history and continue to be produced in Venice today, thanks to the success that makes them one of Venetian glass best-known and most appreciated products. These pretty and joyful glass chandeliers that became popular after the iron, wood and brass era of chandeliers, instantly brings a new dimension of fun and fashion to the idea of chandelier. Today they are widely appreciated as one of the most beautiful and decorative types of chandelier.
Some of Murano's historical glass factories remain well known brands today, amongst them De Biasi, Gabbiani, Venini, Salviati, Barovier & Toso, Pauly, FerroMurano, Berengo Studio, Seguso, Formia International, Simone Cenedese, Alessandro Mandruzzato, and many others. The oldest glass factory is Antica Vetreria Fratelli Toso, founded in 1854.
Overall, the industry has been shrinking as demand has waned. Imitation works from Asia and Eastern Europe take an estimated 40% - 45% of the market for Murano glass, and public tastes have changed while the designs in Murano have largely stayed the same. Due to these factors, as well as the difficult and low-paying nature of the work, the number of professional glassmakers in Murano has decreased from about 6000 in 1990 to less than 1000 today.
In an effort to curb imitations, a collection of companies and concerned individuals in Murano created a trademark to certify authenticity. Today about 50 companies use the Artistic Glass Murano® trademark of origin. The trademark was introduced by and continues to be regulated by Region of Veneto Law no.70 of the 23/12/1994. Factories on the island are not required to apply for the trademark and many choose not to, but if a work carries the trademark, its authenticity is guaranteed.
The other raw materials, called flux or melting agents, soften at lower temperatures. The more sodium oxide present in the glass, the slower it solidifies. This is important for hand-working because it allows the glassmaker more time to shape the material. The various raw materials that an artisan might add to a glass mixture are sodium (to make the glass surface opaque), nitrate and arsenic (to eliminate bubbles) and coloring or opacifying substances.
Colors, techniques and materials vary depending upon the look a glassmaker is trying to achieve. Aquamarine is created through the use of copper and cobalt compounds, whereas ruby red uses a gold solution as a coloring agent.
Murrine technique begins with the layering of colored liquid glass, which is then stretched into long rods called canes (see caneworking). When cold, these canes are then sliced in cross-section, which reveals the layered pattern. The better-known term "millefiori" is a style of murrine that is defined by each layer of molten color being molded into a star, then cooled and layered again. When sliced, this type of murrine has the appearance of many flowers, thus mille- (thousand) fiori (flowers).
Sommerso (lit. "submerged" in Italian), or "sunken glasses", is a form of artistic Murano glass that has layers of contrasting colors (typically two), which are formed by dipping a gather of colored glass into another molten glass and then blowing the gather into the desired shape; the outermost layer, or casing, is often clear. Sommerso was developed in Murano during the late thirties and was made popular by Seguso d'Arte in the fifties. This process is a popular technique for vases, and is sometimes used for sculptures.
Special tools are essential for Murano artisans to make their glass. Some of these tools include borselle (tongs or pliers used to hand-form the red-hot glass), canna da soffio (blowing pipe), pontello (an iron rod to which the craftsman attaches the object after blowing in order to add final touches), scagno (the glass-master's workbench) and tagianti (large glass-cutting clippers). The tools for glass-blowing have changed little over the centuries and remain simple. An old Murano saying goes "Good tools are nice, but good hands are better," reinforcing the artistic nature of the glass-making process, which relies on the skill of the worker rather than the use of special tools.
In The Sopranos episode, "A Hit Is a Hit", Tony Soprano's neighbor, Jean Cusimano, hosts a dinner party, at which she comments about the Soprano home: "Oh, but that bar with the goombah[disambiguation needed] Murano glass". Dinner party guest (and Tony's psychiatrist), Dr. Jennifer Melfi, responds: "I like Murano glass". This exchange occurred in the context of a larger conversation that addressed the blurred distinctions amongst various socio-economic classes of Italian-Americans and between gangsters and successful professionals.