murano glass museum
The Murano Glass Museum was founded in 1861, when Antonio Colleoni (1811-1855), the mayor of the island, and Abbot Vincenzo Zanetti (1824-1883), an enthusiast regarding the art of glassmaking, were able of setting up archives consisting of any available information in order to map out the history and life of the island.
The archive expanded fast due to the fact that a large number of glass objects were donated by the ownwers of the glass factories, so at the end of the century it became a museum. Following the fusion of Murano with Venice Municipality in 1923, the Glass Museum became part of the Venetian Civic Museums and its collections were put in order under a more modern criteria regarding dispaly techniques. The museum’s collection was further expanded by the addition of the Correr, Cicogna and Molin Collections which include, among other things, the most beautiful Renaissance pieces in the museum. The Archeological Heritage Department was responsible for setting up the archeological section whose most outstanding exhibits come from the necropolises of Zara. Except for occasional purchases, even today additions are nade to the museum’s collection thanks to donations made by the island’s glassworks which enrich, above all, the contemporary collection.
The palace was the ancient residence of the bishops of Torcello. It was originally a patrician’s palace in typical Flamboyant Gothic style, and then in 1659 it became the residence of Bishop Marco Giustinian who later bought the property and donated it to the Torcello diocese. This was the period when extensive rebuilding was carried out, based on plans by Antonio Gaspari.
Today, the ceiling of the large central room (or portego) on the first floor overlooking the Grand Canal in Murano testifies the original splendour of the palace with an 18th century fresco by Francesco Zugno (1709 – 1789) depicting the allegory of the Triumph of San Lorenzo Giustinian, the first patriarch of Venice (1381 – 1455), ancestor of the family which radically altered the building in the 17th century.
LAYOUT AND COLLECTIONS
The collection is laid out chronologically on the first floor of the museum.
Starting from an archaeological section on the ground floor, which contains noteworthy Roman works dating from the 1st to the 3rd century A.D., it follows to the largest historical collection of Murano glass in the world, with pieces dating from the 15th to the 20th century, many of them world-famous masterpieces.
The glass collected in the archaeological section comes mostly from the necropolis of Zadar, of Enona and Asseria. It is a wide range of objects, from cinerary urns to jars for balsams, from bowls to glasses, from rings to bracelets and necklaces, from bottles to jugs, from dishes to “guti”, from funnels to “kantharoi”, dated from the 1st century BC the 4th century A.D. Next to them, examples of great interest are those that belong to the primitive nucleus of the Glass Museum and the Levi’s legacy. The glass from the Yugoslavian necropolis demonstrates the exceptional quality of Roman glass production between the 1st and the 3rd century AD. Several pitchers or jars for balsams, with decorations of various kinds, attest the widespread use of the mold in Roman times.
Of the abundant medieval production of Murano glass, little has survived to the present day; exhibited in the Museum a few fragments of glass, dated between 10th and 15th centuries, including hills, spouts, floors and walls of bottles, glasses and lamps. Well represented in the collection is instead the Renaissance production, through which the art of glass blowing reaches some singular artistic expressions, especially following the technological innovations introduced by Angelo Barovier, the most famous glassmaker of 15th century. This refers in particular to the glasses decorated with fused polychrome enamel: one of the most prestigious examples preserved in the Museum is the so called “Barovier Cup”, dating from around 1470.
From the collection exhibited in the Glass Museum of Murano can be identified in the 16th century a remarkable propensity to bizarre (often zoomorphic) and not very functional shapes. Almost exclusively decorative, for example, are some ampullae, with or without spout, with one or two loops, often embellished with the application of glass threads. One of the most significant expressions of the time is given by the glasses, among which the most characteristic are those “ad alette“, enriched by the application on the stem of a vitreous wire wounded “ a riccio”, which is overlapped by another one of different color. Among the objects of this period, the most unusual ones are the jars with long necks or bodies marked by bottlenecks, probably used for liquids to be paid drip by drip. Finally, in the collection we could also recall the plate with “The two women sleeping“, taken from an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi which was inspired by a painting by Raffaello. It testifies the return to painted decoration of glass, often with subjects taken from paintings of famous artists.
In the 17th century, the frequent recourse to the mold for blowing can be identified in a wide range of glass objects and especially in oil lamps and vases in the form of a shell, which can be seen during the visit to the Glass Museum. Probably dating from the late 17th century, also glass panes produced in imitation of the zoned agate, a variety of natural chalcedony, and therefore called “calcedonio“, as the bottle with lobed body and ribbed sides. From the same period are also the cups in lattimo glass, stained or sprayed, with polychrome mixtures of loops worked with pinchers.
In the 18th century glassmakers in Murano dedicate a large commitment to testing potassium glass, in order to obtain a crystal very similar to the Bohemian one. Particularly successful in this was Giuseppe Briati, best known for the “chiocche“, multi-branched chandeliers decorated with festoons, flowers, and leaves. Beside these chandeliers, an important role is played by the “deseri“, or table triumphs (centrepieces), whose designs were often inspired by architecture, mythology, theatre scenes, festivities, or games. Should be remembered for their rich ornamentation also mirrors, made of Murano colored glass. The decoration with fused enamel of colorless glass, widely spread especially in the second half of the 18th century, is instead mostly applied to glasses and bottles with very simple shapes. Famous in this area was the Bottega of Osvaldo Brussa, of which you can admire some splendid objects in the Museum.
In the 19th century, Domenico Bussolin and Pietro Bigaglia restart the production of the filigree glass, with brightly colored textures and a great variety of twines. Also to Peter Bigaglia should be ascribed the merit of having resumed the production of avventurina, while Lorenzo Radi excels in calcedoni. The high degree of technical skills reached by Murano masters is evident in the beautiful glass produced by Fratelli Toso in 1870 and in the “Guggenheim Cup”, realized by Salviati & C. in the same year. One issue that Murano glassmakers have to face in the 19th century is the reproduction of Roman glass called “murrini“, in which gets exceptional results Vincenzo Moretti, working for the Compagnia di Venezia e Murano. The decoration in polychrome enamels arouses a renewed interest: in this area stands out Francesco Toso Borella, who decorate two purple cups with designs inspired by classical design, now in the collections of the museum. Towards the end of the century this period of revival came to an end, as we can see for example in the lightweight glasses with spiral stems, in an evident spirit of Art Nouveau, made by the Artisti Barovier in 1895, the year of the First Biennale of Art in Venice.
At the beginning of the 20th century, glassmaking in Murano continued along traditional lines. Innovation was unanimously heralded with two very light glass bowls decorated by Vittorio Toso Borella with herons and water flowers in clear enamels, dated about 1909, now in the collection of the Glass Museum. It was thanks to Vittorio Zecchin that a breath of a fresh air was brought to the island. He was an artist linked with the Ca’ Pesaro secessionist group and created most unusual pieces in mosaic glass which were made at the Barovier Brothers’ factory, one of whom exhibited the “murrina del pavone” (the peacock murrina) at the1913 Ca’ Pesaro Exposition. The small slab in mosaic glass known as the “Lastrina Barbaro” was made by Vittorio Zecchin in 1914, an outstanding work for the brilliant yellows and blues. Immediately after the war, collaboration between artists and glass factories became frequent; Vittorio Zecchin, for example, became the artistic director of Cappellin Venini & Co., founded in 1921, and began to re-introduce the 16th century glass simple design, inspired by Renaissance paintings, as in the case of the large ribbed glass jar or “Veronese“. In 1925, Cappellin and Venini split up and Martinuzzi became the artistic director of the new Venini & Co. where he remained until 1932. During these years, the artist created new shapes in glass which reflected his experience as a sculptor, exemplified in the filigree glass “The Ducklings” (1929). He also created, using a new type of opaque glass containing bubbles called pulegoso, different shapes of a certain consistency, such as fruits, mushrooms, cactus, and vases decorated with thick ribbons or having many spouts. Archimede Seguso turned his attention to traditional and ancient glassmaking techniques and, starting in the 1950s, made numerous refined and complex pieces in filigree glass.
The Glass Museum in Murano offers its visitors the opportunity to integrate the guided tours of the permanent collection with the demonstration of glassblowing in a furnace, at the Glass School Abate Zanetti. At the Museum are also available educational activities for children and youngsters, for both families and schools (also in English).
The Glass Museum is also home to temporary exhibitions, with the aim to enrich the permanent collection and promote contemporary art glass.
Finally, the Glass Museum in Murano has indoor and outdoor spaces in its beautiful garden that can hold events and conferences.
Chiara Squarcina, Director of the Museo del Vetro di Murano