History of glass art
Many groundbreaking discoveries came about by chance! In 1928, bacteriologist Alexander Fleming found a mould had contaminated one of his experiments. To his surprise, the mould turned out to be an antibacterial agent…and so, penicillin was born. Another remarkable creation is the multifaceted and challenging media of glass. By melting combinations of soda and sand, our ancestors found, upon letting the mixture cool, that its composition had changed into a transparent ‘glassy’ mass.
Trial-and-error resulted in one of the largest industries to date. The creation of glass continually evolved with additions of limestone, lead oxide and boric acid. Metals like cobalt, copper, manganese, gold and silver would change the consistency, clarity, colour weight and strength of glass.
The Venetians were the first to become world leaders in the manufacture of glass. The Crusades and the conquest of Constantinople in 1204 opened the way for extensive trade practices throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and in various Islamic territories. The result was an exchange of cultures – which allowed the Venetians to adopt the practices of the glass producers in these once foreign lands.
More than Conquerors
However, the Venetians were the ones that took the art of glassmaking to another level by adding minerals and pebbles to the glass silica. ‘Oxides’ were also added to the silica, creating a splendid multi-coloured array of glassware. The Venetians also received accolades for perfecting clear glass known as “cristallo.” Nowhere was the art of glass more evident than on the islands of Murano.
Murano is a group of islands lying on the edge of the Adriatic Sea in the lagoon of Venice, about 3,000 meters north of the larger group of islands comprising the city of Venice. This was the glass centre of the Venetian industry, and glassmakers had the same status as “royalty,” and had privileges denied to ordinary citizens; but in exchange for such titles and privileges, the government virtually imprisoned them in an attempt to protect the secrets of the glass trade. If one of these artisans tried to leave the island to practice their craft elsewhere, they were condemned to death for committing treason.
The Republic of Venice put this mandate into effect in order to isolate the master glassblowers, in order to keep control and monopolize the industry of glassmaking. There was a period in Venetian history when the glasshouses supposedly caught fire and the Venetian authorities moved all the glasshouses to the island of Murano. Whether the fires were rumour or fact; by moving all production to Murano, the Venetians not only protected Venice from the hazards of fire, but also insured government regulation and State protection, ensuring no competition from abroad. As a result, Murano glassmaking became the leading source for fine glass in Europe and a major source of trading income for the Republic of Venice.
The glass pieces of this period were ornate and considered luxury items. Through this ostentation, a strain of utilitarian design developed and mirrors started to appear which provided a high revenue turnover. Artisans competed amongst themselves, constantly developing more complex and intricate glassmaking techniques and continually pushing the boundaries of thought, images, use, and opinion.
Unlike any other material, glass envelopes the mystical qualities of color, hue, and light. Old world artisans have introduced us to glass that delights our senses with endless colour schemes, light refractions, and artistic designs.