Museo del Vetro

Glass Museum

REDISCOVERING THE MUSEUM. Murano 1797-1859 from the collections of the Glass Museum.


These were dark days for Murano glassmakers, with the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797 marking the beginning of a long period of foreign occupation. However, there were some master glassmakers and entrepreneurs who – working individually, without any opportunity for concerted effort – adopted various strategies in response to this period of discouragement and crisis. In spite of the enormous financial difficulties created by the heavy duties imposed on both finished goods and the raw materials necessary to make them, some master craftsmen worked to maintain the glorious traditions of 18th century glassmaking, producing chandeliers, mirrors, tableware. Others worked to manufacture objects which antiquarians and antique dealers throughout the world would sell off as antique pieces. And yet others managed to ‘rediscover’ the secret behind the making of certain types of glass – calcedonio, avventurina, filigrana – which had fallen into disuse because of the very complexity of the procedures involved. There were also innovations, with glass beads, murrine, mosaics and filigree glass being used in ways that reflected contemporary tastes, ranging from Biedermeier to the neoclassical. This striving after innovation would result in works of a quality that is yet to be equalled. For example, the calcedony glassware by Radi and the refined filigree work by Bigaglia and Graziati are unchallenged masterpieces of both formal design and technical execution – and it is these achievements upon which the exhibition focuses. However, such work did not necessarily bring these glassmakers economic success: Graziati went bankrupt, Jacopo Franchini actually went mad, Bigalia had to make his money from glass beads rather than from his fine filigree glass, and Radi achieved success with his mosaics rather than with his calcedony work. The life and work on these figures naturally reflects the complexities of contemporary politics and history – and this too can be seen in various pieces included in the exhibition. For example, there is the plaque with a monochrome portrait of Napoleon which was produced on occasion of the emperor’s visit to Murano on 3 December 1808 – exactly 200 years ago. There are also great virtuoso pieces reflecting the current taste for the neoclassical, along with very interesting samples of vividly-coloured glass. The exhibition is thus more than a chance to rediscover an important part of the museum’s collection. It also an opportunity to reflect upon the role played by certain individuals at a moment of crisis in the island’s glass industry; to see how these figures opened the way for the great masters who, in the second half of the nineteenth century, would achieve international success and restore the prestige and status that Murano glass had enjoyed in previous centuries. The exhibition is held in the various spaces of the museum: the room of the 18th century (central table) and in the following.