Millefiori, also called Murrine, is certainly one of the well known and most used technique in Murano glasswork. It stands for “thousand flowers” in Italian, and of course, the stunning result of this fine work is for sure of an explosion of whimsical flowers displaying their striking colours.
Seeing the amazing Murano glass pendants, rings, paperweights, collectible figurines, vases, it is hard to figure out how Venetian glass masters could create such a multitude of patterns and richness of colour from glass.
So in this article we will uncover the secrets of this method recognised since antiquity and perfected by the Murano glassmakers, and give you a taste of the rich history behind it.
In the 16th century some Murano glass artisans began trying to imitate the splendid ancient glassware created by the Romans. They succeeded, but as with many other methods of glassmaking, the secret they discovered was subsequently lost until curiosity about these Roman objects was rekindled in the second half of the 19th century.
At that time, when archaeological discoveries became more frequent and many decorative objects were brought to light, Murano glass vase artists became once again fascinated by the glass objects created by the ancient Romans and displayed in the famous Murano Glass Museum.
A number of beautiful objects that have come down to us from these discoveries include glass vases, bowls, urns and plates with floral motifs unfolding across the inner and outer surfaces of the objects. Venetian glass craftsmen conceptually understood that these things were created using rods of glass arranged in various patterns and then aligned and fused together. However, it was not so easy to devise a precise technique to reproduce most of these glass objects, as this required persistent and passionate research through trial and error.
This was just what a driven and curious man named Vincenzo Moretti set out to do. Vincenzo spent many hours and finally discovered a secret to producing Millefiori glass.
He learned not only how to make the great thing of Millefiori structure, but he also realised real copies of the beautiful glass objects created by the historical Romans and used in Pompeii and other Roman cities that were on display in the famous Archaeological Museum in Naples.
Thus, this particular approach that once again left the world in awe of the enviable skills of the Murano glassmakers is no longer a secret. It is a very difficult and meticulous glassmaking method requiring an high handcraft technique, that’s why Millefiori is still a secret of Venetian glassmakers.
Making a millefiori pattern is a multi-step process, but it all starts with a glass rod prepared in a special way. It comprises multiple layers of semi-liquid glass paste applied one on top of the other around the cylindrical rod.
Each layer is moulded to have a certain shape (often a star or flower) and colour. Preparation continues as the resulting multilayer rod is stretched and then minimised into small cylindrical objects called ‘murrine’.
The murrine are then cleaned and arranged in a desired pattern inside a special heat-resistant mould to provide the product with the necessary shape. Next, the mould containing the murrine pattern is placed in the special furnace.
These furnaces are the foundation of the glassmaking trade, because craftsmen use them to heat the glass mixture and process it while it is in a liquid state. Once the murrine begins to bind together in the furnace, the mould is removed and its contents pressed out to create a stable Millefiori floor with no gaps. After that, it is back to the furnace to create and shape the final product.
The results of this intensive working method are beautiful patterns and deep, intense colours not seen in other glass creations.
From the Millefiori pendants and earrings worn by the world’s most discerning jewellery lovers to museum-worthy Millefiori vases, statuettes and various Venetian glass creations, these distinctive products from the furnaces of Venetian glass masters are inventive and unique.
Nowadays, not only the aristocracy or the rich can enjoy Millefiori decorations, but anyone who admires Millefiori and Venetian glass should buy some of this centuries-old art. From cufflinks, earrings, small rings and pendants made of Murano glass, to ashtrays, collectible figurines, bowls or lamps – there are many Millefiori products that can be found and so is the variation in price, ranging from a few euros to over a thousand.
And with the advent of online Murano glass shops, you no longer need to travel to Venice to get a special Millefiori piece, but can choose it from your personal chair and have it delivered. The web has made Millefiori items and Murano glass a more accessible and cheaper, but still you need to watch out while searching for these goods online.
In recent years there have been many fake and counterfeit pieces from China and other countries supplied to the market as “Murano Glass”. It is more difficult to create fake Millefiori glass than other types, however people still do it, although they usually use very different easy methods or simply decorating on glass to get the effect on the pictures.
After all, when you have an original and a fake product in your hands, you will see the difference instantly, but by then it may be too late and very difficult to get your money back.
Murano Glam is synonymous with guarantee, from Master Glassmaker Francesco Salvadori.