Venetian blown glass history: a craft seen in our Christmas Ornaments

by Kristina Keller-Wilczek on September 9, 2010

in Christmas Tree Ornaments

In my last post I began the story of my trip to Venice in search for home accessories, blown glass art, Christmas Ornaments and other holiday decorations (click for part 1).

Murano history of glass Christmas ornaments

Click on map to enlarge the Murano - Venice view

My experience was amazing.  The cobblestone roads, historical buildings, galleries and especially the family run businesses were my favorites.  I was told that the water in the channel’s stunk!  The channels must have been recently treated or, possibly I was so in awe that, I was mesmerized past the smell.  Even a gondola ride couldn’t prove otherwise.  Such a treat, an art in and of itself!

Venice has a depth of history through and through. The city of Venice originated as a collection of lagoon communities banded together for mutual defense from the Lombard’s, Huns and other invading peoples as the power of the Western Roman Empire dwindled in northern Italy.

Yes… back to the blown glass history:  Byzantine craft men played an important role in the development of Venetian glass. When Constantinople was sacked by the fourth Crusade in 1204, some fleeting artisans came to Venice. Even in a city renowned for its water, the many glass shops became a source of  serious fires. Murano’s reputation as a center for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic ordered glass makers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291 because of the many fires and destruction to the cities. mostly wooden buildings.

Murano glassblowers master a variety of decorative techniques

Murano glassblowers master a variety of decorative techniques

More glass workers migrated when the Ottomans came to Constantinople in 1453, supplying Venice with still more glass workers.  By the 16th century, the Venetian artisans  had gained even greater control over the color and transparency of their craft and had mastered a variety of decorative techniques. Some of these techniques are still used today in glass Christmas ornaments and holiday decorations.

The Italians carefully guarded their glass secrets. By the Middle Ages Venice had become the heartbeat of glass making.  It is reported that the city was once home to more than 8,000 glass artisans.  Venice was a major trading port, and the city passed protectionist laws prohibiting the import of glass and glass blowers from elsewhere.

In Murano, not only was the threat of burning down one of Italy’s most prized cities diminished, so too was the likelihood  the secrets of glassblowing would be found out.  A cloak of secrecy surrounded the island and craftsmen lived under the threat of death should their processes or concoctions leave the shores of  Murano. Murano glass is still interwoven with Venetian glass history.

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