The History of Glass

Prehistoric glass

Without a doubt prehistoric man recognised glass as a natural product, as for example, solidified lava and obsidian, similar to black glass bottles to be found in the volcanic areas of the Land; many objectives of primitive man were made from obsidian.


The art of glass in antiquity

One thing is for sure that ancient glass objects were produced in Fenicia in Egypt. Apparently the art of glass fusion in Egypt was born during the 17th dynasty: in this country it reached a high level of perfection. The remains of ancient glass workshops that used to work local raw materials, sand and natural soda, were found. The procedures and the substances used were only known to priests: the technique of filtering into moulds, like immersion, of terracotta objects, vases for example, into melted glass paste; different colours such as blue, yellow and orange were incorporated into the glass material for decorative purposes. Preserved in the secret of glass art it was not transmitted to Greece, the countries that wanted to use it had to turn to flattery and deception in order to conquer skilful artisans. During the Hellenistic period, the production of glass objects increased. The most important area for the production of glass was Alexandria: this is where the cutting technique of the surface of the glass object was born for decorative purposes. Having conquered Egypt the Romans chose the very best glass experts and led them to Italy, where the iron ‘blow pipe’ still used today, was invented. During the era of Nerone, glass was already an article of common use in Rome: subsequently the glass industry was also set up in other areas of the empire where suitable sand was available: in Spain, in Gallia.


Glass in the middle ages

Byzantium took glass techniques to a high level of development and conquered the international glass market and dominated it for approximately 500 years: in Byzantium the system of superimposing two layers of glass, the lower layer being covered with a sheet of gold that could be seen on the surface was invented. During the Carolingio era, glass was used in windows as glass panels. With the invention of iron strips that were used as supports, figures were created as in the case of mosaics. During the XII and XIII century, with the gothic style, the importance of coloured glass used in the architectural structures of cathedrals, grew. At the same time a huge increase in the production of cups, chalices, glasses and goblets was registered.


Murano glass

With the fall of Byzantium (1453) the glass industry and art continued in Venice, where they had already started to work five centuries before. In 1921 the Republic of Venice ordered the transfer of all working furnaces in the city centre to the island of Murano for safety reasons related to the fear of fire. The products made by Murano industries were soon to become very important on an international level. Venice attracted the very best glass experts in the world and was extremely jealous of this: each attempt to expatriate was severely punished. Initially famous for the production of glass for displays, tesseras and small glass pearls for chains, in the XV century Murano reached the highest level of international fame for the production of blown glass products due to specialised artisans of an extremely high technological and artistic level. In the following centuries it improved the glass paste technique and it was possible to create exceptional objects due to their lightness. Typical Murano glass products include the ‘reticello’, ‘avventurina’, ‘ghiaccio’ and ‘millefiori’ techniques, imitated in many countries throughout the world. With the end of the Venetian republic, Murano production was almost interrupted completely: only a few workshops were kept open. Glass activities started again during the second half of the XIX century: schools for future glass experts were set up (the one by the Seguso family was very famous).