The Venetian City State became a major trading hub and a center of glass manufacturing in the 1300’s and the earliest Venetian beads are thought to date from this time. Most of the glass work was done then and now on the little island of Murano just a short boat ride from Venice. The Venetian government moved glass production to Murano in to protect the City of Venice fire which was a constant danger in medieval towns where most of the buildings were constructed of straw and wood.
I was fortunate to be able to travel to Venice for the winter holiday this year. And because I love glass and beads, I had to go to Murano.
Murano is where the African Trading beads that I have collected since I was a teenager were made for colonial trade in Africa. The lovely, worn trading beads you are likely to find today did not start out looking that way. The beads really were used in trade and acquired a worn, matte finish from years of use much like coins.
It was fascinating to look at old sample cards of millefiori beads at the Murano Glass Museum. The beads looked shiny and new only because they sat in showrooms for decades and were only used as samples. If you go to Venice, be sure to make a trip to the Murano Glass Museum.
I had always heard that you could go into the glass factories and watch items being made.
A friendly store proprietor from a glass making family (and glass manufacturing and bead making seems to be a family endeavor) set me straight about these tours. He said that the lamp workers and blowers did not like to have people around while they worked (I can understand why) and that the demonstrations you will see on Murano were cursory and rehearsed, and not illustrative of the way they really worked.
Since I’ve seem a lot of real glass making of real glass and do lamp work myself, I decided to skip the demonstrations and drool at the glass instead. Here are some pictures.
There’s even more! The Ercole Moretti website is a treasure trove of information and eye candy. They published a history of their company and Venetian glass and I am having a lot of fun reading it.