The Rise of Venetian Glassmaking

35 Centuries of Glass Galleries

During the Renaissance (1300-1700), rural glasshouses all over Europe produced glass for daily use. Luxury glassmaking was revived, especially in Venice, where colorless and colored glass was crafted on the nearby island of Murano. This display focuses on glassmaking in Venice and its influence on glass production in other European countries.

By the mid-15th century, Venetian glassblowers had created a colorless glass called cristallo, which looked like rock crystal [goblet, 2009.3.86]. They produced thin glasses in simple but elegant shapes. Some were decorated with colored horizontal rings or stems molded in the shape of lions. During the 17th century, blown glasses had complex, colorful stems shaped like dragons [dragon-stem goblet, 51.3.118]. Several examples of dragon-stem vessels are on display.

Filigree glass was made on Murano, beginning in the 16th century [covered goblet, 67.3.42]. Blown vessels were produced with canes or rods of colorless or colored glass. This style remained popular for more than 200 years.

Calcedonio, a richly marbled glass that looked like agate, and opal glasses were created by Venetian glassmakers in the late 15th century. They used metal oxides in their glass formulas to imitate chalcedony and other hard stones [chalcedony ewer, 2001.3.56].

Venetian glass was sold throughout Europe and the Islamic East. Many European glassmakers tried to copy the colorless glass of Venice, but strict laws regulated the export of raw materials and technical knowledge from that city. Some glassmakers received permission to leave Venice during the cavata (mid-August through January), when glass furnaces were shut down. Others moved to different Italian cities or sought employment abroad. When glass craftsmen moved from Venice to other parts of Europe, they often blended local styles with their native forms and decorations [tazza, 58.3.180].

Featured Objects of The Rise of Venetian Glassmaking Gallery