Ever wonder how those intricate murrines in paperweights or other glass articles are made?
The history of the Venetian "millefiore" actually goes back to ancient Egypt during the time of the Roman occupation, when Egyptians were producing this type of glass rod. The method of producing millefiori or "mosaic rods" was brought to the Roman Peninsula around 30 B.C., by Alexandrian craftsmen.
These early rods were produced by laying a bundle of colored glass rods so that a pattern or resembling a rosette or mosaic could be seen when veiwed at the end. The bundle was then tightly bound with reeds, and subject to intense heat to fuse the glass together. It was found that these rods could then be heated, and while in a plastic state, could be pulled to any length and still retain the its original pattern in miniature.
During the 15th and 16th centuries the Venetians developed the methods to create more elaborate rods still used today. Some intricate rods were produced first by pouring molten glass into a mold; often in the shape of animals, insects, dancing figures, or silhouette. These molded pieces formed the central core, or motif, of the finished rod. This core was then taken up on a punty and dipped several times in molten glass of a contrasting color or clear glass until it was well coated. The glass containing the core was then shaped into a cylinder by rolling it on the marver, this cylinder is then pulled to length retaining the core in its original pattern only greatly reduced. By combining sucessive coatings of glass in other colors, more pattern molding, add addition of other rods, very elaborate mosaic could be formed..
Early mosaic glass by Jacopo Franchini, can be seen in the Smithsonian Institution, these mosaic pieces made around 1848 - 1850, contain figures of ladies in elegant gowns, and gentlemen in military uniforms, with sashes and medals, all in rods no larger in diameter than that of a modern lead pencil.
"Filigree glass" , the correct term for glass where two or more colors of glass are twisted together to form a lacy pattern, what many call "latticino" today, was orinally produced around the 1st or 2nd century B.C.. These rods are produced by twisting two or more rods of colored and clear glass together while in a plastic state then fusing them together under great heat.
Venetian techniques of glass manufacture were copied widely in the 19th century by Bohemian, French and English glass manufacurers, leading to many pieces being easily confused as Venetian or Murano glass. We will discuss these types in later entries.
In our next blog entry we will discuss how these rods and rod sections are transformed in the beautiful pieces of art we see, like the paperweight pictured in this entry.