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Murano glass museum marks the rebirth of four earthquake-damaged chandeliers

by Chiara Beghelli

The island of Murano is near Venice, its “mother-town,” but not close enough to suffer from its grandeur. It’s the perfect destination for those who, after visiting the highlights of the “Serenissima,” want to discover a more secret aspect of it: the ancient art of glassblowing.

Murano has been the capital of glassblowing since 1291, when Venice's doge gave order to move to the island of Murano all the furnaces of the city because they caused too many disastrous fires.

From then on, the glass masterpieces created in Murano's furnaces reach every part of the world. These artworks are valuable enough to sustain the families who produce them for centuries. An example of it is the Barovier family, of Barovier&Toso, whose forefather, Angelo, in the first half of the 15th century invented the “Venice crystal glass,” a glass as transparent as we know it nowadays.

The Glass Museum, inaugurated in 1861 and just restored, retraces the history of Murano glass starting from its origins. This museum is very far from being a mere archive, since it is very active in the analysis of contemporary production trends on the island, where currently there are around 260 glass factories.

On January 23, an exhibition opens that shows how closely the Museum is connected to the present craft of glassblowing: after 3 years of restoration, four precious chandeliers made of Murano glass are ready to be shown to the public. These chandeliers come from the City Hall of Sant'Agostino, in the province of Ferrara, and they have been severely damaged by the 2012 earthquake in Emilia Romagna.

The exhibition is called “A light for Emilia Romagna” and it's curated by the Consorzio Primovetro of Murano, which gathers about 50 glass factories of the island.

The exhibition’s setting, curated by the Venice’s Teatro La Fenice, culminates with the 5-meter high majestic gold amber crystal glass chandelier. This chandelier has a circumference of about 3 meters and a weight of 400 kilos. It was created in the mid ‘20s of the 20th century, when the style used to imitate the great Venetian tradition of monumental chandeliers typical of the 17th century, on the model of those conserved in the Museum of Palazzo Mocenigo or in Ca' Rezzonico.

By the end of 1933, the chandelier was moved to the largest room of Sant'Agostino's City Hall, which was often used as a banquet hall, and where Italo Balbo (one of the most important men of the Fascist era) was said to go dancing with his lover.

Murano's exhibition is also an occasion to showcase the excellence of Italy’s glassblowing craft, which is jeopardized not only by the crisis but also by the increasingly widespread forgery.

Even though an artwork of Murano glass is the most popular souvenir among Venice's visitors, the Consorzio calculated that about 70% of the glass sold in Venice as “Murano glass” is actually produced elsewhere, in Italy or even abroad. In order to fight the increase of this phenomenon, a special certification label has been launched for glass “made in Murano.”

Although the economic crisis has forced some glass factories to reduce their workforce, the district's yearly revenues are around €165 million, with 260 companies and 1,100 employees, and the furnaces are still a very popular destination for tourists from all over the world. In 2015 no less than the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, visited a glass factory.

In order to promote real Murano glass in the world, the Consorzio has established a partnership with the city of Dordrecht (Holland): for six month starting from April 30, Dordrecht will host an exhibition about the glass born from the sea of Venice's lagoon.