What can people do with glass? We use it to make windows, mirrors, bottles, jars, tableware, tables, covers for watch faces, and more — including, of course, beads. Two distinct items can even be referred to as “glasses” — namely, the vision aid and any cup made from the material. Glass is practical for all of these uses because it is a hardy material in its final form, but can be formed into all kinds of shapes during its creation.
Also notable, though, is a less functional kind of glasswork. Ever since people first began heating and cooling sand, they have molded the material into beautiful and beautiful works of art. Consider the stained glass windows adorning medieval churches, or the more abstract sculptures from modern times. One form stands out for its ability to combine the aesthetic with the functional: Murano glass, a centuries-old artisanal tradition and the subject of this special article.
What is Murano Glass?
Murano glass gets its name from a chain of islands in the Venetian Lagoon. It is also known as Venetian glass for this reason, though the islands lie about a mile north of the mainland city itself. Archaeologists and historians believe the tradition to stretch back one-and-a-half millennia, originating from trade with merchants from the Middle East and the Byzantine Empire. Learning from those regions, Venice soon became the first European capital for glassmaking. Royals and nobles from across the continent considered Murano products a sign of luxury.
In fact, the islands comprising Murano received legal designation as the only place in Venice for factories and artisan shops. This move was partly done because keeping the fiery furnaces away from the rest of the town would prevent fires from spreading. Perhaps a more important reason was to help keep knowledge of their glassmaking technology and techniques away from outsiders, raising the value of their exports. Venice prized their secrets so much that glassmakers needed permission simply to leave the city.
As time passed, other European countries developed their own glassmaking methods, decreasing demand for Murano products. Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquest of Venice in 1797 ended the republic whose laws protected the glassmakers. His closure of the factories ten years later halted nearly all production. Thankfully for world culture, a revival began in the late 19th century. Now, Murano’s artisanal tradition is still going strong. Their unique techniques continue to dazzle.
What Makes Murano Glass So Special?
Although other countries, companies, and craftspeople have their own methods for making glass, none are quite like the method for making Murano glass. Their process involves mixing silica sand — approximately 70% of the batch — with a variety of substances. The precise identities of all the ingredients remains a well-kept community secret. Whatever they may be, their combination has the effect of lowering the required temperature for the glass to melt and take a liquid form.
This one change in its aspect makes for consistently high quality, something on which the artists behind Murano glass pride themselves. Moreover, they can more easily shape the paste into the forms and shapes they want. All kinds of household wares and decorations have been made from this type of glass. Popular examples of the artisans’ creations include glass horses, pristine chandeliers, ornamented mirrors, and cristallo chalices, among many others.
One element that can make Murano glass works stand out is the color. The material is clear and devoid of color on its own, but certain chemicals and minerals can be added to enhance its brilliance. Only a faint trace of selenium, for example, is necessary to spread billows of red through the glass. The colored sections, which can be shaped to create dazzling designs, are themselves transparent. They create new artistic possibilities without tarnishing or compromising the Murano glass. These color effects combine with the intricate sculpting to produce truly stunning works of art.
What are Murano Glass Beads?
The bead is another noteworthy product that can be made from Murano glass. They are as diverse as anything else made from the material, coming in an array of designs, sizes, and glassmaking styles. For centuries, the island’s artisans have worked to refine the process, using copper mandrels to create the beads one at a time. They string the glass paste around metal tubes, making holes so the finished product can be used as jewelry. They then stack layers of colored glass until it takes the desired appearance.
On that note, beads depend greatly on color. Most other Murano glass products, which may have a specific function and a more complex form. A clear cup retains an appeal that a colorless bead does not. As a result, you can find beads with all kinds of stunning color mixtures. No two are exactly identical in coloring because they are made individually, and also because of the sensitivity of the ingredients that create the colors. Artisans must mix and handle them carefully and wield the color canes with great care.
The vibrancy and quality of these glass droplets have given them an enduring popularity all over the world. Even in the dark period following Napoleon’s shutdown of the factories, global demand for beads allowed Murano glassmakers to scrape by and preserve their methods. It seems that any form of art can last, as long as there are those who learn about and appreciate them.
Where Can I Find Murano Glass Beads?
If you are searching for Murano glass beads of your own, then your search is already over. As you could guess by our name, Venetian Bead Shop specializes in beads made with this special and beautiful process. Every product available on our online store is forged, fanned, shaped, and colored by genuine artisans in Venice and the islands of Murano. Our relationship with these geniuses spans over a quarter-century, and their knowledge and methods have been passed down over generations. If you place an order with us right away, you will soon possess their high-quality, completely authentic masterworks.