CULTURE

The secretive old art of glassmaking in Murano

Similarly to Limoges china in France, Italy’s Murano glass objects are legendary for their quality and style. Beyond generic geography, however, lies a long tradition of craftsmanship and innovation. Master glassmakers working on the islands of Murano have been perfecting their art since the end of the 13th century, while keeping their know-how and secrets all to themselves – allowing knowledge to travel only from one generation to the next. An exhibition of the art of Murano glassmaking opened Wednesday night at the active Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, showcasing 85 objects of decorative desire. The pieces are part of the permanent collection of the Museo per le Arti Decorative e il Design, in Sartirana, situated in the greater Pavia area in Italy, and present the fine workmanship of 14 firms. Covering glassmaking design development in the 20th century, the exhibition was organized in collaboration with the Athens Italian Cultural Institute, the Pavia authorities and the Fondazione Sartirana Arte, MADD. Amid the bright colors and rich textures, the show includes pieces from prominent firms such as Salviati and Co. Founded in 1866, the company’s design history reflects the history of glassmaking in general: from detailed dragons and flowers inspired by the Renaissance and presented in the firm’s early period, to graphic themes such as the «grass vase» in 1965, all the way to the minimalist black and white «Galaxy» design in 1999. Renowned firm Venini and Co. is another legendary name. Initially established by master glassmakers Paolo Venini and Giacomo Capellin as Venini and Capellin in 1921, following Capellin’s departure, the firm survives today as Venini and Co., featuring works such as Tobia Scarpa’s «Mother Earth» (1999, Murrina technique). There are also items from the Fratelli Toso firm, a company founded in 1854, with the 1920 bright «Carnival» vase, mixing a deep sea-blue with gold. From the Maestri Muranesi label, Alfredo Rossi’s beautiful bottle-green vase from 1970 features the «Avventurina» technique, where iridescent particles are incorporated into the glass. The history Though the technique of glassblowing was invented in Venice – most probably before AD 1000 – the city’s officials decided to move the glassblowers to the Murano islands, possibly in order to prevent them from sharing the exclusive know-how with foreigners (another reason cited is safety, as Venice featured many wooden structures). On the islands, professionals carried on with their art, while a revival of glassmaking occurred in the 19th century, with the establishment of new glass furnaces and firms. At the beginning of the 20th century, glassmaking began following general trends in design and art, with art nouveau, for example, influencing and inspiring Murano’s great masters. This new development in the trade paved the way for mounting competition among the Murano artisans, who began looking for increasingly innovative ways and techniques to keep their pieces original and unique. And they came up with plenty. Take the «Iridato» method, for instance, which treats the still-hot glass object with metal chlorides to produce an iridescent, matte surface. Or the «Merletto,» a variation developed in 1951 by master glassblower Archimede Seguso for his company, which features a pattern which resembles lace. The «Fenicio» way is a decorative pattern created by applying glass threads over hot blown glass, and subsequently using a special tool to comb them into a symmetrical design; though an ancient technique, it was given a new spin at the 2nd Murano Glass Exhibition in 1869. And there is also the «Cristallo» technique, which involves simply reaching the stage where the glass is absolutely clear – it is the 15th century master Angelo Barovier who is credited with this exciting invention. At the museum, the various techniques mix and match: There are Carlo Scarpa’s vases, going back to the 1940s, where the designer, using the «Tessuto» (fabric) method, creates colorful stripes on glass. Nearly 60 years later, designer Thon presents his «Pieces of Textiles» (1999), where he actually incorporates small pieces of fabric inside the glass. Nature is one of the exhibition’s themes, with Alfredo Barbini’s serious-looking «Ducks» series (made during the period 1937-1950), while from the same designer come two delicate bracket lamps featuring sea world themes, with fish, corals and seaweed. Also on the seafront are master Archimede Seguso’s bright red door handles. Also at the show, Covem’s «Flame» and «Owl» vases made in the 1950s, Sergio Rossi’s hand-painted vase features delicate poppies (1999-2000) as well as Isabella Bertocco-Smaria’s powerful glass patchwork – a reminder of contemporary glassmaking challenges. Complementing the exhibition is a short video offering a view of the Murano islands as well as a closer look at a furnace during production. While watching the master glassblower in full action, visitors will get a glimpse of this intensely private, yet world-renowned craft. «Vetri di Murano,» at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, 12 Kallisperi, Acropolis. For more information tel 210.922.1044, 210.923.9260. The exhibition runs to April 10.