Venice may be famous around the world for its Grand Canal, its Bridge of Sighs and the Piazza San Marco, but for centuries the glorious objects produced by the glassblowers of Murano have brought it even greater renown. From the 11th century onward, the island was home to the producers of the most celebrated and sophisticated glassware in the world, objects of desire from Denmark to Byzantium. The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag possesses a unique collection of this Venetian glass, which is now the subject of a new presentation.
In 1291, the glassblowers of Venice were all banished to Murano, out in the lagoon, because of fire risk they posed in the city. Concentrated on the island and highly organised, they developed virtuoso techniques of glassblowing and decoration which were passed down through the guild structure. The close relations between the Venetians and the Orient were another major factor, not only because of the wealth they brought the city-state, but also because they provided channels for age-old glassblowing techniques to find their way to la Serenissima.
Venetian glass and the extraordinary skill with which the glowing gem-like objects were produced quickly gained great influence in Europe. In the fifteenth century, a colourless, wafer-thin type of glassware was developed, cristallo, which was to become the pride of Venetian glassmaking. But the business acumen of the Venetians, which had made the city-state so rich and powerful, also had its influence on the glass industry: it became highly proficient in the production of different kinds of goods for different markets. The Venetian glassware made for Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen was entirely unlike the products dispatched to the sultan in Constantinople.
But, however hard they tried, the Venetians were unable to keep their production methods secret: after the Renaissance, glassworks with a mastery of the traditional techniques of Venetian glassblowing began to appear north of the Alps and to refine these techniques further. Bohemian glass is particularly well-known, but glass à la façon de Venise was also produced in the Netherlands. Today, Venice may no longer enjoy a monopoly of such skills, but – thanks in part to a revival of the industry around 1900 – Murano glass is still justly acclaimed as the finest in the world.
The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag possesses an outstanding collection of this precious glassware, including objects from a wide variety of periods. The major part of the collection was bequeathed to the museum by Pim Mulier in 1954. This presentation features a number of top pieces which together provide an overview of the evolution of this fine but fragile product.