Battle of the Giants: Murano Glass vs. Bohemian Glass
Today, glass is created in many countries of the world, and many countries are developing reputation for outstanding glass art. But, for many centuries, there were two places that were producing great glass art - Murano in Italy, and several places in Bohemia, what is today Czech Republic.
Small Italian island Murano, in the Venetian lagoon, was the center of the world glass production from the 14th century. Famous for their blown glass of exquisite shapes and forms, Murano glass artists developed many new techniques that are used even today, such as crystalline glass, enameled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (aventurine), multicolored glass (millefiori), milk glass (lattimo), to mention just a few.
Murano glass was also famous for its colors. The ways to color glass was by using different coloring agents and chemicals. A coloring agent was ground, mixed and then melted with the glass. Many of these coloring agents are still used today.
For many centuries, Murano was the center of a lucrative export trade in dinnerware, chandeliers and mirrors. The techniques Venetian glass makers used were kept in great secrecy, so Murano managed to retain the monopoly in glass making for centuries. What made Murano glass so different in composition from all others was that the local quartz pebbles were almost pure silica, ground into very fine sand. Combined with soda ash from the Levant, Murano glass makers were able to produce glass of exceptional quality. It helped that they held a monopoly for the soda ash import.
What makes Bohemian glass or bohemian crystal so different from Murano glass is that it is decorated by grinding, the technique called cold-worked glass. This technique was used in Bohemia (today Czech Republic) and Silesia (today Poland) since the 13th century. Many of the best Bohemian glass makes were originally trained in Venice, which was already the world center for the glass making.
Bohemian glass owes its original popularity to the gem faceting fashion that swept Europe in the 14th century. Glass was faceted to imitate real gems in response to the demand for affordable, but nice looking jewelry. This created a large cottage industry for making beads, which are even today the main glass products coming from this region. The technique for making Bohemian glass beads involved pressing melted glass into a mold, allowing the production of thousands of identical copies. The glass beads were then coated by gold or bronze metal finishes.
Competition between Bohemian and Murano glass makers had always been fierce, in spite the fact that they produced very different glass art objects, using very different techniques. Murano was always famous for its unique glass making techniques, for blown glass and for glass objects made by hand, even when it came to glass beads.
The Bohemian glass was cold-worked crystal glass decorated by grinding, and the beads were and are still, made by a machine. This division is extended to the contemporary glass lovers who are also clearly divided to those who prefer one kind of glass over other, particularly when it comes to glass beads. Fortunately for both Murano glass and Czech glass bead makers, there are enough of fans of both kinds, to allow thriving beads industry, and thriving beads making hobby all over the world.
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