Venice’s Murano Glass: Brilliantly-Crafted Fragile Pieces

Brilliantly crafted fragile pieces adorned with bright colors that seem to symbolize Venice’s beauty.

It is yet another typical hot, humid day in Venice. We walk slowly, sweat dripping down our bodies. We have grown accustomed to it, and just bear with it until the next destination that provides the sweet relief that is air conditioning. But first, we have to endure the hot heat outside, as the next item on our itinerary is a visit to a Murano glass factory shop. We are seated barely six feet away from the open oven, and we can feel its scorch on our faces. We take out makeshift paper fans to try to cool ourselves off as we wait for the demonstration to begin. A man with glasses sits waiting on a stool, clad in a navy blue t-shirt and jeans. He waits while his colleague introduces to us a brief history of Murano glass. Murano is the island where all the glass factories in Venice are located. These glass masters begin learning the art at young ages, usually five years old, and are only able to master one or two techniques at the end of their lifetimes. The master here uses the technique of cristallo to shape colorless glass from a long thin rod into a pitcher in a matter of minutes. He works quickly, as the heated glass is malleable only for a short duration.

We are told that the temperature of the oven is in the thousands, about 1700 degrees Celsius. Until the glass turns clear, the master is wary of it, keeping his distance as he rolls the ball of glass on the metal rod. It looks very much like “Laffy Taffy” on a stick. Back and forth across a metal slab, he rolls it, shaping it slowly so that it maintains an even surface. Only when it is clear does he bring it closer, manipulating the material with metal tools to create curves and corners, shaping it into a pitcher by blowing into the end of the rod – a move that makes me cringe thinking about how hot that rod must be. He proceeds to make a horse, an elegant tiny figure that results from adroit pricks and turns of the glass. He is silent and focuses intently on his work. He is done within minutes, and we sit there, amazed at his skill, wondering how long it must have taken for him to acquire it. I am envious of his expertise and admire his dedication to the art, as he is performing even on a day where the temperatures exceed ninety degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity levels are above ninety percent. I am grateful to this man for sharing with us this gift, his skill, his passion for creating such brilliantly crafted fragile pieces adorned with bright colors that seem to symbolize Venice’s beauty.

Becky Chao

A graduate from Duke University, Becky lived in Venice for several months. She traveled throughout Italy, Barcelona and other countries in Europe.

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