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Glass is nothing more than sand which is usually mixed with an alkaline flux to make it easier to melt at lower temperatures. Since glass can break down over time, depending on quality, a stabilizer, normally lime, is used to make it last longer. Most glass with no other additives is a greenish color. However since ancient times, glass makers have been adding different metals and oxides including gold to change the color of glass. Some of the most prominent and beautiful colored glass is produced by the Venetians and more specifically the island of Murano.
In the 11th Century, glass making in Venice was regulated and the importation of glass was against the law. Additionally foreign glass makers were not allowed to operate in the city. In the late 1200’s, because people were afraid that all the furnaces operating in Venice may someday catch the city on fire, a law was passed that banished all glassmaking to the island of Murano. And another law made it illegal for Venetian glass makers to immigrate out of the country. It wasn’t until the 1400’s that glassmakers from other countries and influences from different cultures were allowed onto Murano.
As a result of influences from the Middle East and the Far East, Murano glass which was already delicate and beautiful, became even more stunning. The Venetians were already making colorful glass in many shapes; the Middle East influence gave them the ability to produce enameled glass. In the 1600’s, an artisan named Angelo Barovier, whose glass today is still much sought after, introduced the world to crystal, which was a very clear and flawless glass and much like today was used to produce high quality items for the well to do. However, all of the items made were copied and unoriginal pieces and it wasn’t until much later that art glass came to be.
Art glass which was original and unique came in many different shapes and sizes, but did not become popular until much later. Besides Barovier, many of today Murano glass collectors seek out art glass by other art glass houses including Toso, Cenedese, Barbini and probably the most collectible glass comes from Venini. Some of the most sought after pieces are mid-century modern art glass with smooth lines and controlled bubbles as well as colorful designs that include aventurine, gold fleck and millifiore. If you were to visit Murano today, you would find most of these art glass manufacturers still plying their trade after hundreds of years.
Although many of the art glass manufacturers on the island of Murano have been around for hundreds of years, one stands out among others and it has only been around since 1921, Venini. Started by an attorney named Paolo Venini along with an antiques dealer, Giacomo Cappellin, Venini Glass quickly became one of the leading producers of cutting edge, tastefully decorated and artistically pleasing art glass. Arguably, their success can be attributed to the hiring of great artistic glass blowers and talented designers that included names such as Andrea Rioda, Ettore Stottsass and Fulvio Bianconi. And these are just some of the names that Murano Glass collectors look for today.
The best place to start a Venini art glass collection is with some research. Keep in mind that there are thousands of Murano art glass pieces and a lot of them look very similar, so you have to familiarize yourself with the shapes and sizes of Venini. Secondly, you have to make a decision as to what type of art glass to collect. Although, bowls and ashtrays are probably abundant and can be easily found, you may want to instead collect the colorful vases, paperweights or art glass figurines. Beware of fakes. Many art glass manufacturers who are not remotely associated with Venini or even the island of Murano will try to sell glass that is marked “Murano Style.” If you can afford it, buy the best possible pieces because they are more likely to appreciate in value.