Glass - Venice

By the thirteenth century glass-making had become a well-established industry in Venice and on the island of Murano, where a large and important export trade was built up rapidly. The Venetians had found how to make a clear glass, cristallo, and were able to produce not only colourless pieces but others of pure gem-like tints. These various types of glass and the skill with which they were fashioned ensured a ready sale, and gave Venice an enduring fame. One of the techniques rediscovered shortly before 1650, lost since Egyptian and Roman times, was the embedding in clear glass of threads of white or coloured glass, the former known as latticino; dishes, and other pieces were made with lace- like patterns of mathematical precision. Other types of decoration were with enamels painted on the surface and fired (similar to the painting of chinaware), gilding, and engraving. The white glass used in the making of latticino pieces was used sometimes to make complete pieces; their resemblance to porcelain was recognized and often led to confusion. It is recorded that about 1470 a white glass was the subject of experiments to imitate Chinese porcelain, and as late as 1730 the French scientist, Reaumur, was working on much the same fines.

The Venetian trade declined once the spread of knowledge had enabled glass- works to be set up in other countries, but production continued. Both coloured and white glass were made throughout the eighteenth century and later, and chandeliers were introduced. These were often of large size, made of opaque glass tinted in pinks and blues and modelled with flowers, leaves and elaborate scrolls. Mirror-frames were made also in the same style.

Not only was domestic and ornamental glassware developed and exported in quantity by the Venetians, but during the greater part of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries they were the principal makers of mirror-glass and their products were far ahead of those of their imitators. It must be remembered that the making of glass in Venice has been continuous for many hundreds of years, and the same designs have been reproduced there again and again. Many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century pieces were copied in Victorian times and more recently, and the collector must guard against these copies as well as against deliberate forgeries.

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