Tuesday, April 15, 2014


     I know I already posted about glassblowing, but this post is different.  It's about a very special place at a very special time: the tiny island of Murano, off the coast of Venice, during the 16th century.
     There were glassblowers in Venice dating back to about a thousand years ago.  But they didn't work in big factories; glasshouses were tiny buildings that would get suffocatingly hot from the kilns, which had to be perpetually stoked with wood to create roaring fires.

     Often, there were accidents; glassworkers could not contain the fires, which leapt out to destroy not only the glasshouses, but the surrounding areas.  In the year 1291, the Venetian government had had enough of this dangerous industry coexisting with homes and shops and churches.  It decreed that all the glasshouses in Venice had to be relocated to Murano.  From that time to the present, Murano has been home to generation after generation of glassmakers.
     In the 16th century, Venetian glass was the best in the world, coveted by the wealthy everywhere that Venetian traders could transport it.  The government wanted to ensure that the trade secrets of the Muranese glassmakers remained secret, so that the local industry remained extremely lucrative.  It accomplished this goal by decreeing that the glassmakers were forbidden, under penalty of death, from ever leaving their island, or even speaking to visitors.
     But some glassmakers dared to violate these laws, despite the threat of being pursued by assassins sent by the government wherever they might flee.  Terrifying as it must have been, some of them did escape, and survive, and establish their own glasshouses in London or Paris or German cities.  By the 18th century, Venice had lost its monopoly over top-quality glassmaking.
     When I first heard this story, I was instantly hooked.  The more I read, the more I realized that 16th-century Venetian glasswork was not primitive, as a modern reader might think.  The facilities and the tools were primitive, but the work produced was anything but.  The image at the top of this post, for example, is of a lamp made in Murano in the mid-1500s.   And here is a chalice from the early part of that century:

     And a wine decanter, also from the early part of the century:

     And a fruit container, from the mid-1500s:

     The source of all of these images is a book, "Glass from Antiquity to the Renaissance," by Giovanni Mariacher, translated from the Italian (Hamlyn, 1970).   I chose them to illustrate that the level of 16th century Venetian glassmaking has (in my opinion) never been matched before or since, let alone surpassed.
     And maybe someday my middle-grade novel, GLASS ISLAND, will be published,  and then I'll be able to share a lot more about this magical, dangerous, thrilling place and time.


  1. A really interesting post. Thank you so much, nice to follow and connect through atozchallenge.

    1. Yes, A to Z Challenge has turned out to be very rewarding, hasn't it? I feel like I've made new friends and found a lot of great blogs to follow. Thank you for stopping by!

  2. I love, LOVE glass. I don't have the skills to work it, but I collect it, particularly blown glass. Thank you for telling me something new about it! And what great inspiration for a book, and a great topic for the A-Z challenge!

    Kat Sheridan with Sia McKye Over Coffee

    1. Thank you so much for visiting, Kat! And thanks for loving glass as I do. Murano, 1574. Be there!

  3. What a fascinating post! I'm a big fan of Murano, but I never knew it's history or that glassblowers were forbidden to leave. How times have changed. Out in the Pacific NW, there are more glassblowers than you can throw rocks at, and some of them have connections with Venetian/Murano glass artists. There is a glass hot shop at the bottom of the hill from where I live, and an Italian glassblower has visited there and done work at this hot shop. It is amazing to watch them work.
    Personally, I think it would be very helpful in finishing your book, for you to take a month on Murano. Just sayin.
    Visiting from the A to Z from http://yourbrainonpandas.com (don't let the panda kindergarten in the glass shop.)

  4. I've only been to the Pacific NW once (Portland, OR and the Oregon coast) but I don't remember whether or not I visited any glass shops while I was there. I repeat: when are you going to clear the pandas out of your guestroom so I can come visit? A month on Murano sounds like heaven to me, but what I really want is to spend a month on 16th-century Murano. Think that can be arranged? Thanks so much for the shout-out on your blog! I'm a new follower!