The Art of Glass
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.