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…
|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) http://museovetro.visitmuve.it/
- Charlotte Wightwick unless otherwise stated