Murano glass is world renowned for its beauty and craftsmanship. People travel all over the world to visit the Island of Murano in search of these dazzling and elegant treasures. However beautiful the glass is, its history and how it came to be on the Island of Murano is equally intriguing.
The craft of making and blowing glass started in Venice, Italy in the late 1200’s and quickly became the citys’ major industry. The Glassmaker’s Guild was formed in order to safeguard their secrets with various rules and regulations for the craftsmen and in turn ensure continued profitability of the business. In 1271, a law was passed to prohibit the importation of foreign glass and the employment of foreign glassmakers in order to further keep the trade confidential. Soon after, several fires were started by the hot furnaces of glass artisans and the government ordered all glassmaking to be contained on the Island of Murano. Many, however, believe that this law was actually to prevent the glassmakers from disclosing trade secrets. A second law passed in 1291 seems to confirm this theory as it prevented the glassmakers from leaving the island.
Being exiled wasn’t necessarily a bad fate for these artisans, as it actually gave them a privileged social status and lifestyle. They were allowed to marry their daughters into wealthy and influential Venetian families, as well as being allowed to wear swords, being protected from prosecution by the Venetian State, and were not required to work summers.
Murano glass reached the height of its popularity in the 1500s and then fell into a steep decline after the plague of 1630 as well as the fall of the Republic of Venice to Napoleon Bonaparte and his French army. This led to the dissolvement of The Glassmakers Guild and without the protection of the guild, the art of glassmaking began to spread. Soon after, Bohemian glass that was created in the Habsburg Empire, also known as the modern day Czech Republic, became popular and eventually flooded the market.
An economic depression soon drove glassmakers out of Venice and eventually only 16 families remained. A few glassmaker families have descendents that still practice the art today. By the 20th century, artisans had begun to collaborate with other designers and artists in order to elevate the glassware from merely functional pieces to works of art. There became a demand for unique art pieces, as well as artists seeking to train in the traditional and ancient ways of glassmaking in the 1980s, thus ensuring that Murano remained the global center for priceless and elegant glasswork.