Header image by Natalie Rapoport. Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Murano glass jewelry.

Glass is Venice’s coat of arms.Venice is flooded with glass shops, it’s a given , shops catering to tourists and all kinds of budgets. Shop windows are sparkling, glittering , shimmering  and tempting: you MUST buy a tiny piece of Venice as a souvenir. Sellers are loud and persistent, it feels like the one giant glass bazaar.

It’s not an easy task to find an authentic boutique carrying genuine collection, with a knowledgeable owner who would be happy to chat with you  about  traditional venetian bead making techniques and jewelry styles. If you are in pursuit of a real deal  it’s much better to wander away from central sestiere to Dorsoduro or Cannaregio, where  in times bygone glass makers worked, away from crowds, that’s where many sought after treasures are hidden.

Glass making for centuries was so vitally important  for venetian wealth and glory  that it actually became a synonym: Venice – sea – glass…

The early glass artifacts found there were attributed to  4th-7th centuries. By 12th there was a guild of glass artisans and in 13th  century the glass blowing  was an established industry and due to high fire risk was moved forever to the island of Murano.  By mid 14th century prosperous city-state, without any natural resources needed for glass blowing, became a unique glass producing capital of the world.

The finest sand for the venetian crystal  masterpieces was imported from Syria and later from Fontainebleau in France.

However, did you know that Venice was the first to manufacture mirrors since 15th century and by 17th Murano masters could produce the largest mirrors in the world?

At this time Venice so favored all sorts of goods displays that  she was the first to install  large glass shop windows  dressed with special artistic care.

Vases, chalices, goblets, bowls, chandeliers, crystal stemware, lamps, mirrors, window glass, eye-glasses, elaborate luxury objects and of course mosaics and at last beads – this is where Venice became an unsurpassed leader by 17th century.

In fact beads for jewelry making and skillful faux gemstones brought the fortune  to the state of Venice. If it wasn’t Alexandre Dumas who coined “Cherchez la femme” it should be venetians to say “cerca la donna” as this  ornamental industry remains the most flourishing up to our days.
The problem is that low key Murano jewelry is sold everywhere in Venice and you have to search thoroughly to find something special. The other problem is that myriad of  ready to wear sets are made in traditional styles (I already have a few in my collection), but I was looking for something exquisite ,  contemporary Murano loose glass beads or a pendant where tradition comes alive in modern design.

And I’ve got lucky!  In Cannaregio on La Strada Nuova there was MY boutique : elegantly designed interior, exclusive gallery style display in the window, the silver haired owner looked like Franco Nero, friendly smile. It wasn’t just a boutique, it was a museum of Murano jewelry as there were authentic antique Murina pieces on display with astronomic prices attached of course. Seeing my genuine interest (though I mentioned right away that I can only enjoy and appreciate the beauty) he started to open the locked drawers where on the velvet trays were laid out  unbelievably beautiful (and unapproachable) necklaces and beads made up to a hundred years ago by famous glass makers. Wonderful colorful examples of various  techniques. Live tradition in its very best. The owner insisted I should at least try a necklace, irresistible temptation… A sigh...

 And when I was about to leave with heartfelt thanks  he showed me a tacked away small contemporary collection and very unusual pendant  nobody was interested in and that was it.

Exactly what I was looking for (and affordable too)!

The image doesn’t do the justice. It’s even more beautiful and exquisite.

Very unusual honeycomb technique. It's more like a coral in glass.
Just a few steps into history of Murano glass jewelry making.
The first glass beads appeared in early 14th century were skillful imitation of precious gems. They were cut and faceted and soon became  and important trade commodity. Various techniques emerged, variable palette introduced and patterns developed  to stay in use since then.

Beads were translucent and opaque, more colors were added to the molten glass and stretched  into a cane which was later cut into bead size pieces. That’s in short how Chevron and Rosetta techniques were invented. In fact  since 1600s the tiniest Conterie beads for embroidery and  colorful Rosetta beads were in such a high demand  and highly valued especially in colonial lands and Africa that they  were used as a currency and got the name trade beads.

Naturally Venice regarded and guarded the glassmaking secrets as the top state secrets. Stealing or disclosing  manufacturing  secrets or even run away was  considered a crime against the state, the worst of all in Venitian law system  and the shortest way to a death penalty.

The most famous bead technique is Millefiori “a thousand flowers”. It still is the most popular technique  widely used in jewelry and  decorative objects making.

Beside the heavy solid glass beads there are blown glass beads much lighter, in endless shapes and color combinations. Extremely fragile  tiny masterpieces.

There are gold, silver or copper foil intrusions in glass which produce stunning shimmering effects. Popular for pendants and candy size beads called Caramella for that matter.
And the last to name a few are Lamp work beads, each individually made and decorated with colorful applique in traditional ornamental patterns.

This a very brief history of Venetian glass beads.

One can’t get enough of watching this glittering and mesmerizing glass sea  reflecting glorious palazzi and a sea of glass reflecting all of this incredible beauty.

This contemporary piece inspired by Murano pendant I designed with lava rondelle.
More details or to buy here

Have a wonderful weekend my  friends.

All images © Natalie Rapoport

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Melting August in Venice

Gelato vendors prospered in the middle of an early August heat wave and cheerful gondoliers giggled at melting tourists.
Venice is still there! Not submerged into the sea, thanks God! Beautiful, mysterious, seductive and addictive with all those belissima and serinissima in place. Fantastic illusion, mirage in the sea, creation of minds and hands, souls and hearts. Architecturally a sporadic splash and unstoppable improvisation of inventive citizens famous throughout the centuries for their entrepreneurial talents and exuberant nature, curiosity for novelties and entertainment.

Though venetians were expert navigators and cartographers since early 13th century and soon after Guttenberg’s invention the best map printers  who shaped the knowledge of the world creating detailed picture of far away lands.  But nevertheless Venice is a “city where map and reality rarely meet”.* Absolutely!
Unmappable maze of calli, riva, sotoportego, piazzetta, campo, the narrowest alleys and whirling passages, unnamed, untamed. You simply can’t ask for directions because you most likely won’t see locals and fellow tourists are as admirably puzzled as you are. Even GPS  becomes so dizzy and confused that it looses a grip which drives some tourists crazy. This is fun. Forgetting the map and agenda is the only way to discover Venice or better to say to approach as it takes much more time than most visitors ever have just to feel the ambiance.
Venice is majestic! Especially on early foggy mornings…mmm….
…So after visiting San Marco, Rialto and surroundings, having traveled the Canale Grande enjoy to be lost in the labyrinth, preferably before darkness falls.
I can actually believe if someone claims to know Paris or London, Chicago or NY, Amsterdam or Barcelona etc. etc. as a palm of his hand. It’s quite possible to know one’s ways around the city and not only the tourist’s highlights or daily routs.
It’s possible when the city can be mapped. The layout doesn’t need necessarily be geometrically crisscrossed or centering around the historical town core. But there should be a plan, any plan, a terrain view. It could help when streets are visibly named and houses numbered.
This is exactly why I won’t ever believe even a venetian that he REALLY knows his/her city, maybe just a neighborhood. This is utterly unlikely. Impossible! Even for a private tour guides who are on a friendly ground within certain part of the city I won’t make an exclusion.
Venice is full of surprises, especially off the bitten tourist paths.
Even if you think you are following the most detailed map from those pitifully narrowing books like 10 TOP of Venice you’ll be surprised where you end up making lots of discoveries along the way.

Canals, gondolas, vaporettos almost sinking under passengers influx, arched bridges over smaller canals, weathered doors and seasoned walls, terracotta red rooftops, patinated stones and unforgettable unique venetian windows and balconies, the carved lace of venetian architecture, colors crumbling and fading away , and majestic eternal beauty resurrecting over the time again and again.
Venice is well-known to be so unbearably photogenic and rich on visual stories that you don’t even have to look through a viewfinder or even point to shoot. Just press the button in sync with every step might as well suffice. 

See you soon with more venetian posts  and I promise to invite you to beautiful Prague too.

Next time: Murano jewelry.

All images © Natalie Rapoport