by Dr. Lori Verderame
Many, many, many of you have asked me to write this article on valuable Murano glass. It is such a popular and pricey type of glass that many collectors prefer it to the glass or crystal made by such prestigious glass firms as Lalique, Steuben, Kosta Boda, etc. Murano is not crystal, make no mistake, but rather glass objects. Murano is known for its organic forms and for its amazing colors. Most people love the romantic association of Murano glass. People love the gentle forms, the beautiful colors, the shapes and the artistry that has become synonymous with the centuries old glass making center of Murano of Venice, Italy.
In the shadow of the famous sites of Venice, Italy such as the Doges Palace, St. Mark’s Square and Cathedral, the Bridge of Sighs, and the Grand Canal and its smaller canals, the island of Murano has been home to glass makers and skilled artisans since the time of the Romans. And when it comes to learning about Murano glass and its history, remember that it is all about this place, this center for glass making that will tell the story of valuable glass objects. The water taxis and gondoliers of Venice are well versed in the region’s love of glass and its tradition of making glass.
Murano glass references a place, the island of Murano in Venice, Italy and the surrounding islands of the famous city dedicated to St. Mark. Murano is not a specific manufacturer or glass-making firm. The glass furnaces of Murano have been in operation, not far from St. Mark’s Square in the canal city of Venice and its 117 surrounding islands, since the 1200s AD. It is made by hand and the methods for making Murano glass have been handed down from artisan to artisan over time.
Remember that Murano glass can only be made in Venice, Italy. These pieces of Murano glass are only the real thing if well known glass blowing techniques are used to make the pieces of glass. Pieces of Murano glass must be made in Murano but they also must be made from materials that are local to the area. When making glass pieces, the sand in Murano is desirable and has an impact on the final product.
What to Look For
Special features like rich colors and uneven shapes are things to look for when it comes to determining if you have a piece of Murano glass. When you are looking for Murano glass pieces, look for an abundance of rich colors, natural imperfections, imperfect shapes, variations of shapes, gold specks, silver flecks, various color shades, signatures, designers, and labels. There are no exact measurements used when it comes to making blown Murano glass pieces. This is part of the beauty of these pieces. Machines do not aide in the making of valuable Murano glass pieces either. Some pieces are irregularly shaped, some are slightly asymmetrical, some have rough or smooth pontils making identifying an authentic piece of Murano difficult. As a result, this manual process which dates back centuries highlights hand craftsmanship and dealing with the results that come out of the glass and the fires of the glass furnaces. Shapes, sizes, and shades of color all differ from piece to piece.
How to Make Murano
A piece of blown Murano glass starts with what is called glass mass. To give glass mass its color, the mass must be heated and various minerals are added to the glass to give it a specific color. I discuss the various glass colors and the minerals that make them on my videos and in my articles. When the glass mass is heated with minerals, those minerals melt and a piece of clear glass takes on color like red from gold or blue from cobalt, or pink from manganese, etc. A color layering method called Sommerso is used in pieces of Murano glass. Some glass pieces are made using multi-colored glass rods to create a mosaic type of effect known as Millefiori which comes from an ancient technique. Murrina is another name for the coming together or many colors of glass when blown.
Signatures, Marks and Labels
Let the famous signatures and labels on pieces of Murano glass help you to find that valuable, authentic piece of Murano. Most pieces of glass made in Murano have workshop names on adhesive or paper labels adhered to the glass piece. Sometimes, a piece of Murano glass will have an etched signature of the glass artisan or glass master who made the Murano glass piece in one of the glass factories located on Murano. Some pieces come with information about the Murano-based maker who made a particular piece of glass.
Don’t be fooled by the fakes and there are many fakes out there. For instance, there are many pieces of glass upon which labels are place which indicate that a piece of blown glass was made in the manner of the Murano masters but not by a Murano master or not in Murano proper. The Italian phrase on a label “Vetro Eseguito Secondo La Tecnica Dei Maestri Di Murano” means that the piece of glass was created in the techniques or manner of the Murano masters but it is not a piece of Murano glass. This is required to protect the true masters of the Murano glassmaking art form.
Protect yourself by purchasing a piece of Murano glass that holds the markings of the Murano Glass Consortium as those pieces are authentic glass from Murano. If you find a piece of glass with a factory name on a label, then be sure that factory is located in Venice or on the island of Murano because if it is located elsewhere, then you do not have a piece of Murano. For a piece to be Murano glass, it must be made in Murano. Plain and simple!
Master glassblowers in Murano sign their work. Murano glass sold online or in stores aren’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination. Look for quality and be ready to pay the price for quality pieces.
Characteristic Murano subjects relate to life in Venice such as images of bridges, gondolas, animals, figures, lovers. Murano chandeliers are highly sought after as are bowls, jewelry pieces, etc. There are many highly skilled glass masters working in and around Murano and they sign their work and produce quality items.
How to Spot a Fake
The consortium of Murano Glass Companies was established in Venice, Italy in 1985. Overseeing the production of glass items that bear the Murano name, the Murano Glass Companies consortium requires that every member company is based on the island of Murano which is not far from Venice’s famous Grand Canal and the Consortium will not allow any of its member companies to be making glass items anywhere other than Venice. Even glass makers within other parts of Italy are not included in the Murano consortium. They are very strict about the rule that member companies must be working factories located in Murano.
The creative talent, technical prowess, and consistent quality of produced items make Murano glass a household and high quality name. Murano Glass masters use glass-blowing techniques, specialty molds, and small flames, as the Romans used centuries ago, to make glass blowing a major art form. What makes Murano great? Artistic designs, rich colors, lightness of form, and quality materials to name a few. Fratelli Toso and Seguso are some of the names to look for when seeking out Murano glass.
This depends on what type of object is being produced in Murano. Jewelry pieces of Murano glass are made using a small gas flame. Jewelry pieces are made from pre-made glass canes in a technique called lampwork or “a lume” in Italian. Mosaic designs consisting of rods are used to make the famous millefiori objects. Lattimo pieces feature opaque glass of a milky color in design. Glass pieces featuring repeating or controlled bubble patterns are called Bullicante pieces. These and other techniques are vital to identifying an authentic piece of Murano glass.
When identifying a piece of true Murano glass, you will find that no two pieces are alike. Ever! While similarities exist in the world of Murano glassmaking, it is rare for two pieces to be identical.