Thursday, October 9, 2014

Art for the Masses on Murano, the Island of Glass

Sweat drips down his forehead as he stands at the mouth of the furnace, evenly rotating the metal rod to gather molten glass on its end. Turning towards us, he carries the rod with its blob of gooey glass over to the table and rolls it back and forth, back and forth. Bringing the hollow rod to his lips, his cheeks bulge as he blows mightily, and the glass bubbles outwards. Back into the furnace it goes. The man does this repeatedly, sometimes rolling the hot glass in bits of colored glass to make it more vividly hued or pulling out points and curves with tweezers. When this piece is done, he pulls it off the rod and puts it in a controlled temperature oven which will slowly cool it down to room temperature.

Vitae by Denise Germin

Watching craftsmen create hand blown glass is one of the top reasons that my son proposed Italy as our summer vacation destination. Frankly, this took me by surprise because it has nothing to do with either Pokemon or Minecraft. You never know where you'll end up if you put a kid in charge.

We take a short ferry ride across the lagoon from Venice to Murano which is the center of Venetian glassmaking. Back in 1291, these craftsmen were forced to move to Murano because Venetians were worried that flames from the fiery furnaces would consume their town. For centuries after that, Murano was the main producer of glass for all of Europe.

Whereas the first stop, Murano Colonna, is near all the glass boutiques, we continue on to the Murano Faro stop which is nearer to the actual workshops. Stepping off the boat, I am immediately struck by how much quieter and simpler this town is than Venice. It also has a network of canals and bridges connecting its seven islands, but unlike Venice, Murano is the type of place which I could actually picture being inhabited by regular folks. This was never the home of royalty, politicians and the ultra-rich like Venice was. It is a place founded by craftsmen and their families

 A man greets us as we disembark, loudly announcing that a glassmaking factory is to the right of the dock. Ignoring his salespitch advice, we continue down Calle Bressagio to find a factory on our own.

Glass owl sitting in a glass flowerbed

We soon come across the first piece of handblown glass public art. A crackled white and sea green own with bright red eyes stares back at us from its roost in a seemingly fragile flowerbed of glass blooms. I'm guessing that the solar panel next to the installation lights it up at night. What a sight that must be.

Across the street, we also find the small glassmaking factory of Fornace Artigiani di Doge, the Furnace Artisans to the Duke. As we watch the craftsmen work, I realize how much training and skill is involved in learning this art. I have a hard enough time blowing up balloons for a kid's birthday party, much less relying on my lung power to earn a living. No pictures are allowed or else I would be totally showing you photos of the process. While we are there, they work on making a clown. In the thirty minutes that we spend watching, they almost finish one set of legs.

Looking at the tiny shop's shelves packed with glass souvenirs, I cannot begin to estimate how many hours were spent creating all of it. That's why so much of what you find in Venice is actually manufactured overseas in China. Yes, Made in China. If you want to ensure that your souvenir is authentic to this region, look for a Vetro Murano Artistico heart trademark.


On the way to the canal, we discover the especially striking piece Vitae created in 2008 by glass artisan Denise Gemin and sponsored by FornaceMian. This lifesize figure with the womanly curves of someone who is heavy with child gleams in the sunlight. Made of silvery, bulbous glass and a mirrored, teardrop-shaped belly that acts like a gazing ball, it reflects the surrounding buildings and us, the observers. It is as if all of Murano is sheltered within this glass lady.

Turning onto the canal, we stroll by numerous glass shops and cafes. Murano has its fair share of tourists, but it seems less busy than opulent Venice. I quickly browse inside the posh shop Venini while hubby keeps the kids outside so that the expensive wares are far, far out of their reach. Whereas the items in Ai Dogi are traditional and sometimes kitschy, the glassware inside Venini are modern and contemporary. And, I repeat, expensive.

Streetlights in Love

Walking along Fondamenta dei Vetrai towards Murano's own Grand Canal, I notice an amusing tableau in a little town square off to the side. Two tall streetlights are intertwined as if gazing into each other's eyes. Streetlights in love. How sweet.

Natale di Luce in una Cometa di Vetro by Simone Cenedese

Across the canal, a monumentally enormous, shimmering blue sculpture is displayed at Campo Santo Stefano. Five hundred handmade, mouth blown glass elements join together to form Natale di Luce in una Cometa di Vetro (Christmas of Light in a Glass Star). It was created by Simone Cenedese in 2008 for the annual Natale di Vetro (Christmas of Glass) celebration and has become on of Murano's most iconic pieces of public art.

Crossing the only bridge over the Murano Grand Canal, we make our way to the Museo del Vetro (Museum of Glass) which has the largest collection of Murano glass in the world. Roman artifacts from as early as the 1st to 3rd centuries A.D. and Murano glass from the 15th to 20th centuries are on display. My favorite part is the first floor temporary exhibit of blown glass interpretations of children's drawings. Remember all those pictures you drew in primary school art class? Now imagine if a craftsman interpreted it in 3D with handmade, mouth blown glass.

The original kid drawings are displayed over the blown glass interpretations.

Having fulfilled (and. to be honest, exceeded) my son's desire to see glass blowing with a half day spent on the island of Murano, it is time to move on to our next stop... Burano, the colorful island of lace, for more aimless wandering and a spot of lunch.

Tune in next week. Same bat time. Same bat channel.

Handy dandy map of public art, workshops, stores and the museum

Related Posts:
Explore Venice by Boat
Dreams Come True in Venice

This post is part of the following link ups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration. 


  1. I love blown glass, and these pieces are so beautiful. I hope one day to be able to make it to Murano and Venice. I was in italy last May, but only had time for Rome and Florence.

  2. Great review of Murano. We went there two years ago and simply window 'shopped' - in this Island of Glass. If you ever get to the Seattle area pay a visit to both Chihuly's Museum at the Seattle Center but make a trek to Tacoma's Glass Museum as well. . .they have a Hot Shop where similar demonstrations take place. The most amazing glass production though that I've seen is on the Celebrity Solstice-class ships that teamed up with Corning Glass institute and have a hot shop on board. I was amazed at the artists creating glass items just as you described but doing it as the ship rocked back and forth on its travels! Great post - I'll be back for Burano!

    1. I've seen pictures of some of Chihuly's work and would really enjoy seeing it in person. I'm impressed that those artists can manage glass blowing on a boat. I wonder if they take a break in stormy seas.

  3. It must have been fascinating to see someone creating glass before your own eyes - but rather strange that your son chose this activity over everything else in the world!

    Also, I love those streetlights, so cute!

  4. I visited Murano back in the 1970's, and love it. Watching the craftsman create all that beauty with molten glass was so intriguing to me. I bought a gondola, and I think I still have it. I have a few boxes stored at my Dad's house, and I am pretty sure that I would find it there.

  5. I love that you put your kids in charge and that your Son surprised you with Italy for this purpose. How exciting to have that random choice lead you in this direction. Making art by blowing into molten glass is an incredible idea to begin with the the results are equally amazing. Bring on Burano. :)

  6. Wonderful tips for a visit to Murano. I love blown glass too and watching the glass blowing craftsmen at work is always interesting. We visited Venice very briefly this year and saw lots of glass art in the shops, but sadly didn't have time for Murano. Glad you enjoyed it :)

  7. Great!
    I have been to Murano but I only have seen the last sculpture - Cometa di Vetro :)

  8. Love your description of the glass blower, Michele. Very visual. Would love to see it one of these days.
    Looks like your son surprised you, didn't he? Thanks for taking us along on your tour.

  9. Amazing review! We're planning on going here next year so now I know some places to look out for! :)

  10. Love all the glass artwork. We visited Murano in Venice last time we went. I fell in love with the chandeliers and wanted to bring one back with me. My husband thought it was a bad idea, I shouldn't of listen to him. Thanks for linking up to #WeekendWanderlust.

  11. I've seen beautiful photos of Murano but never the glass statues and artwork - very cool!

  12. How wonderful that they have such beautiful art scattered around Murano. (That is new since we were there - guess that is a good reason to return!) Murano is one of my favorite memories of our trip to Venice. Like you we wandered where we felt like and I ended up buying glass beads in a tiny shop. When I tried to check that they were indeed made here, and not in China, it took awhile for the sales clerk to understand my question, but when she did she patted the other woman on the head and assured me with a laugh that the beads were made by here by "factory Andrea!" Andrea did lovely work.

  13. You captured some great street art in Murano. Our only experience was part of a tour with Burano and Torcello. We were ushered into a factory in Murano to watch the workers. It was amazing to see what they were able to create from glass. It looks like we missed quite a bit here. I'm still very nervous taking my kids into all those glass shops in Venice. I think my stress level will be elevated in Murano. What a great idea your son had for this visit.

  14. I would like to know what the other choices you offered your son were ;)

    But seriously, fabulous place, how interesting! And I adore those streetlights in love!

    1. Since hubby and I really didn't care where in Europe we ended up, we let each kid propose a destination and a list of 5 activities/sites at that place. My boy suggested Italy and glass blowing was one of his 5 suggestions.

  15. I have always been fascinated by glass blowing and glass art and the technique and years of self-teaching it takes to reach a high level of professional art. I really like where you mentioned to check for the authenticity, Michele, as that always tweaks me when you buy something that is presented under false pretenses. Good post! :)

  16. What a funny thing to suggest for a kid! I don't even think I knew what glass blowing was when I was young. Regardless Murano sounds like a beautiful and creative place to visit.

  17. The Vitae piece reminds me of one of the robots from that Will Smith movie, "I, Robot". Your son made a great decision in choosing Murano. It's still on my list of places to see. By the way, we often buy items to decorate our home while traveling, so I guess that I'll need to work out a cushy budget when planning our glass purchase in Murano.


I read each and every comment. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Comment moderation is on, so your comment may not appear immediately.

Web Analytics