Today’s post comes from Explainer Juliet Downie
I am a high school Explainer at the Museum. Throughout the spring, I was trained about the history, art, and science of glass so that this summer, I could teach visitors about glass. Throughout my training, I became interested in the history of Venetian glass. As an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program student at my high school, I am required to write a 4,000-word research paper on a topic of my choosing. I decided to utilize the Rakow Research Library to research the history of Venetian glass. I set out exploring how the Venetian government impacted its city’s famed glass industry from 1200 to 1600.
I have discovered a wealth of information and would like to share some of what I have learned.
By the 13thcentury, Venice was considered the greatest of urban glassmaking centers. The glass industry was a very significant part of the Venetian economy, and the government began to exert influence over the industry to ensure that it would gain in profit and prestige.
Perhaps the most famous regulation on the glass industry imposed by the Venetian government was the 1291 decree which forced all glassmakers to relocate to Murano, an island an hour’s boat-ride from the city in the Venetian lagoon. This law had direct impacts on both the glass industry and its workers. With the entire industry isolated on an island, the glassworkers learned from one another and formed a unique subculture (Polak 55). Over the next several centuries, the Venetian glass industry was at its peak, and Venetian glass was heavily prized and traded throughout the world.
The government also regulated the industry by closely regulating the flow of materials into and out of Venice. Venice did not have the raw materials needed for making glass, so it was imperative that high-quality raw materials be imported in sufficient quantities (McCray, 1999 47). The government tried to control the market so that Venice, rather than rival glassmaking areas, would receive the most and the highest quality raw materials. Likewise, the government also tried to regulate the exportation of glass, and the movement of its glass workers. Efforts were made to prevent Venetian glass from being exported to rival glassmaking areas, for fear that those regions would learn to copy Venetian glass techniques, including techniques for making cristallo, calcedonio, millefiori, and vetro a filigrana. For the same reason, Venetian glassmakers were often forbidden from traveling to other glassmaking regions during the several months of the year in which the Venetian furnaces were closed for repair, reorganization, and rest (Moore 31).
Although the isolation of the glassmakers on Murano was intended to promote the Venetian glass industry, it ultimately led to the industry’s decline. Because the Venetian glass industry was largely deprived of outside stimulation, the industry eventually stagnated as glass from other regions gained in technique, style, and popularity. The government failed to prevent other regions from learning the secrets of Venetian glass. Those areas began to imitate Venetian glass with façon de Venise glass. These glass pieces were less expensive than Venetian glass and as a result, damaged the sale of Venetian products (McCray, 1996 339).
Venice is still regarded as one of the world’s most important glassmaking centers. Consequently, the Museum has several cases dedicated to Venetian glass. For me, I found the Venetian glass in the collection more meaningful and exciting after I had learned about its history. I encourage visitors to take another look at the Venetian glass on display here at The Corning Museum of Glass.
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McCray, Patrick. The Culture and Technology of Glass in Renaissance Venice. N.p.: n.p., 1996. Print.
McCray, Patrick. Glassmaking in Renaissance Venice: The Fragile Craft. Aldershot, Hants, England: Brookfield, Vt., 1999. Print.
Moore, N. H. Old Glass: European and American. New York: Tudor, 1935. Print.
Polak, Ada. Glass: Its Tradition and Its Makers. New York: Putnam, 1975. Print.
Tait, Hugh. Glass, 5,000 Years. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991. Print.
“Venetian Glass History.” Venetian Murano Glass History. Art of Venice, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.