a beautiful chandelier

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A beautiful blown glass chandelier from Murano (Venezia).

The year was 1291. After 1,000 years of Venetian glassmaking — glassmaking traditions linked to the rich Islamic and Byzantine Mediterranean-East — a government decree transferred all factory production off the mainland to avoid fire hazards.

Murano, a channeled island, was a logical choice. Many of the Venetian glassmakers had already migrated there.

The bourgeois class of Murano glassmakers, entrepreneurs and masters gradually formed an exclusive caste of original families that carefullly guarded the secrets of the trade and built dynasties through the centuries. Murano glass became a treasured collectible throughout Europe. Gradually, these Murano glassmakers migrated to other parts of Europe, setting up glass-making centers in other countries.

In the 15th century, Murano glass blossomed with the invention of colorless Murano “crystal” by master artist Angelo Barovier, who succeeded in eliminating the soda ash that had caused impurities. Other types of glass were invented. Shapes became more sophisticated. It was the 16th century that was known as the Golden Age of Venetian glassmaking. Simplicity of form and ornament were the goals. Shapes were essential and curvilinear. New techniques, such as netted and twisted filigree, ice glass with a translucent crackly effect, and the incalmo came into use.

During the 17th century, more complex, baroque-styled glassware with highly colored, enameled floral and animal decoations came into favor. New glass techniques included aventurine — a vitreous paste, chalcedony opaque glass —named after a variety of zone agate, as well as diamond point engraving for mirrors, gold decorations and cold paiting on glass, and the production of small beads, and millefiori-decorated beads. The 18th century saw great competition from Bohemia, France and England. During this time, new techniques included enamel-painted milk glass, Bohemian-style crystalware, decorated mirrors, table centerpieces in the form of Italian gardens. The fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797 brought almost a total closure to Murano glass factories.

By the end of the 19th century, new factories were set up in Murano. Venetian glass-making techniques were revived, and reinterpreted in multi-colored blown glass and mosaics. The 20th century has seen several creative cycles, including Art Nouveau/Art Deco; Renaissance revival; bright opaque and sculptural styles; multi-layered colored glass techniques.

Murano glass is much sought-after. Most desirable are the sculptural glass pieces. Today, there are about 50 companies and 2,000 artisans making Murano glass. Currently, among the less traveled, there remains a misconception that Murano is a composite regional source for art glass, rather than the site of many unique companies, each with its own specialty. Murano glassware is completely handmade. It is pricey, but a terrific investment in wonderful craft and art!

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