Thursday 30 March 2017

Cabinet of Curiosities by Charlotte Wightwick - Murano Glass

This January, I went to Venice for the first time. I have had a fascination with the city since I was a very young child and family friends returned with a Murano glass paperweight for my parents and a small replica Venetian mask for me.

I loved my mask the way that only a small girl can: it seemed to me to be the very epitome of elegance and I could only think that the place it came from must be similarly beautiful. But I found myself fascinated by my parents’ paperweight too, its smooth roundness pleasing in the hand, and the intricate flowers inside a mystery I could not fathom (how had they got there?)

Through school, university and years of novel-writing-research, my love of the Italian Renaissance grew, and with it a desire to see Italy for myself, yet in recent years I have prioritised visits to other cities: Florence, Rome, Milan.

Eventually, I had to take the plunge: would I love Venice as much as I had dreamed as a child?

The answer, you may be glad to know, is yes: like thousands before me, I fell immediately and entirely in love with La Serenissima. The sense of wonder John Julius Norwich describes in the introduction to his History of Venice was very much with me as I explored the city from the canals and bridges, or wandered its tiny, winding streets.
The Grand Canal, Venice 2017
In Venice, more than anywhere else, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. However majestic the churches, however magnificent the palazzi, however dazzling the pictures, the ultimate masterpiece remains Venice itself.
Murano, Janury 2017

Which brings me to this month’s item in the Cabinet of Curiosities. Sadly, the Venetian mask of my childhood is long gone, lost to who-knows-what Marie Kondo-style cull, and I suspect my parents wouldn’t be too keen on my stealing their paperweight. So, I just had to buy my very own piece of Murano glass. This proved surprisingly difficult.

Murano, one of the islands in the Venetian lagoon, has been a world-renowned centre of glass-making for centuries. All of Venice’s glass-blowers were relocated there in the thirteenth century, initially as a protection for the rest of the city against fire, an occupational hazard when dealing with molten sand. When the Murano craftsmen discovered the secret of making first clear glass, and later some of the best quality mirrors available in Europe, this segregation allowed the notoriously controlling Venetian government to maintain a monopoly on both the items and the men, punishing runaway glass-makers severely.

Today, Murano glass remains world-famous, although much of the glass available to tourists is reportedly imported cheaply from China. This, however, was not my biggest problem when it came to buying my very own piece of Venetian history.
Murano glassware, photo credit Daniel Ventura

Nor was the problem merely one of price (although I did have to put down the 700-euro wine-glass I was happily waving at my friend and revise my plan of buying six of them…) It was more fundamental than that. Like Jan Morris, I think

that almost everything they make is, at least to my taste, perfectly hideous…

Eventually, I found what I was looking for: a necklace (within my price range!) that would be a memory of a beautiful city, a personal symbol to me of my own past and of my love of history, and a thing of beauty in its own right.

My necklace! I think its pretty....

  • Jan Morris, Venice, Faber & Faber (1960, revised 1993)
  • John Julius Norwich, A History of Venice (1977, reissued 2003)
  • Il Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum, Murano)

Photo credits:
  • Charlotte Wightwick unless otherwise stated


AnnP said...

I have an almost identical necklace which I treasure. It wasn't bought in Murano but it does remind me of two wonderful visits to Venice, one in my teens and one several decades later. Thank you for the post and so glad Venice lived up to your expectations.

Charlotte Wightwick said...

Thank you!

Becca McCallum said...

Oh, I'm glad Venice was as you imagined it. I've always wanted to go, despite my intensely practical grandma dismissing Venice as 'smelly'. I've loved the idea of it ever since I can remember, and thought that perhaps the smell of the canals wouldn't matter if you could see everything else.

Marjorie said...

I'm so glad you loved it! I'm visiting for the first time next month, and I can't wait, but do have a nagging fear it might not be as exciting as I hope!
(and I love your necklace!)

Unknown said...

How fantastic to find this post! I was feeling really flat on finding myself back in the Scottish rain after falling in love with Venice on my first visit last weekend. It was such a wonderful, sensory experience, I just can't wait to go back! Like you I visited Murano where we were lucky enough to find a small glass-blower's shop away from the main drag. There we watched in wonder as an old man drew a beautiful, elegant horse from a wobbly blob of orange molten glass. Our Murano horse now stands proudly on our mantelpiece and he is already a treasured reminder of a glorious weekend. I do hope he's mot missing the sunshine too much though ...

Celia Rees said...

' my taste, perfectly hideous' - glad it's not just me, then! The Chinese are welcome to the big pieces, pretty beads, though.

michelle lovric said...

So glad you had a lovely time. Excellent work on the necklace!

Unknown said...

I just visited Venice and I fell in love with the city as well. I also visited Murano during my time in Venice because I wanted to see personally the famous island, known as the worldwide centre of glass-making . I've always been a big fan of glass sculptures and objects, so Murano is the best place for finding unique and authentical pieces. In particular, I was looking for some decorative sculptures, but I find it difficult to distinguish between imitations and authentic products by myself. Looking online I discovered, the Official Online Murano Glass Shop, where they sell a great assortment of original Murano glass objects: vases, sculptures, jewelry and much more. Everything comes with the certificate by the Italian law which is "Vetro Artistico Murano" Trademark of Origin, to make sure that glass creations are really original from Murano island. I really like to buy online because I can shop easily from home and I'm sure to receive an original Murano and high-quality product in just a few days.