A history in glass

Other side of Venice

 delicate lilies Glass sculpture at the museum garden.Even today, the blown glass of Murano retains a distinct identity and follows an age-old tradition where master glassmakers pass on their techniques to their apprentices.

When I stepped off the boat, I was disappointed. The island appeared to be just another tourist trap, where guides stood by the pier welcoming tourists to their glass factories for a free live demonstration of glassmaking. While it was fascinating to watch the master artisan alternatively blow, twirl and tweak the molten silica until he attained the desired shape, there was a catch. The only exit ran through the large showroom where we felt obliged to part with money in exchange for a few souvenirs.

The return boat was scheduled to arrive an hour later. Almost every house on the island was a glass factory with an adjoining showroom and I did not fancy visiting more than one. Therefore, when I noticed the sign for Museo Vetrario or the Glass Museum, I was happy to escape from the face of commercialism and on hindsight, I was fortunate to have visited this museum with a heart that beautifully told the story of glass through the centuries.

Located in Palazzo Giustinian since 1861, the glass museum preserves and displays the history of the traditional craft of the island. On the ground floor is an archaeological display featuring pieces from 1-3 AD excavated from the ancient Byzantine necropolises of Zara, Enona and Asseria, mostly glass urns used to store ashes.

On the first floor, besides a room dedicated to the techniques of glass making over the centuries is one of the largest and richest historical glass collections in the world, with a separate room for each century. As I moved through the rooms, I got a sense of the techniques that were developed over the centuries — enamelling, filigreeing, frosting, wheel engraving, and mosaic glass. 

The rooms also told the history behind the designs of a particular period. The transition from colourful enamelled glassware decorated with allegoric scenes in the 15th century to the introduction of new treatments on crystal-like glassware in the 16th century. Then, in the late 17th century, there was a decline in the local industry that resulted in Bohemia glass gaining popularity. In the 18th century, the chemical composition of Murano glass was changed to produce a Bohemia-like glass.

The period of consolidation took place in the 19th century when old techniques were revived but designs were more contemporary. In the 20th century, especially in the post World War period, artists started collaborating with glassmakers, using glass as a medium of artistic expression. This, it appeared, continued to be the current trend.

In the back garden of the museum, under the shade of the trees I noticed a dream-like setting, which turned out to be an art installation — a metal framed bed with a decorative head post made of hanging glass, surrounded by glass flowers. As I turned the corner from the museum, I found myself in the square outside an old church, Santa Maria e Donato, where a bright blue modern metal and glass installation stood. This, an artistic representation of a comet by a master glassmaker from the island, overshadowed the pretty, 12th century church that stood sedately in the background, and seemed to symbolise the bright future of glassmaking in Murano.

Getting there

From the San Marco-San Zaccaria pier in Venice, ACTV boats leave every half an hour to Murano. Get off at the Murano Museo stop for the Glass museum. You can check and download the schedule at www.hellovenezia.com.

n Boat tickets: A single one-way fare costs €6.50 per adult. If you are staying more than a day in Venice, then get yourself a Venice Connected card that allows you unlimited use of the boat buses, including the service to Murano. The costs vary according to the duration of the card that you opt for:

* Museum tickets: A single entry ticket to the glass museum costs €5.50. Discounted tickets are available for children between 6-14 years, students between 15-29 years and for senior citizens above 65 years.   

If you are staying in Venice more than three days and plan to visit other museums, then pay an additional €18 supplement on your Venice Connected card that allows you entry to the 10 civic museums in Venice, including the Glass Museum.

You can buy your Venice Connected pass online at www.veniceconnected.com. Book at least seven days in advance for online discounted prices.

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