Glass has been made on Murano for more than 700 years

If you’re in certain Dolce & Gabbana or Louis Vuitton stores, or in the lobbies of several Bulgari or Four Seasons hotels, be sure to look up. You are likely to see a large, dazzling, one-of-a-kind chandelier, each piece of glass is hand-blown on the Venetian island of Murano, just as it has been done for more than 700 years.

That is why you can see the same type of chandeliers in paintings by Tintoretto and Titian, Caravaggio and Giorgione.

They were all made by Barovier & Toso, who market themselves as the oldest glassworks on this island of glassmakers.

Its founder, Jacobello Barovier, moved to Murano from Venice in the late 12th century to work in glassmaking, shortly after what was then the Republic of Venice required all glassmaking to be done on the island to protect industry trade secrets. He opened his own glassworks in 1295, which operated independently until 1936, when it merged with Toso’s glassmaking business.

Today, visitors to Murano can access the Palazzo Barovier&Toso shop on the Rio dei Vetrai, the river of glassmakers, as well as the company’s showroom across the canal via a pedestrian bridge. Inside the showroom is a heavy wooden door with the company’s current name and the date 1295. Behind the door is a large stone room that served as a warehouse, but in the 15th century when the company came to this address there were fires here the furnaces and glassblowers originally used magic.

Today the work is carried out in side rooms that have been added over the years, all in stone and with high ceilings to absorb the heat and large windows to let in the light.

The process begins with the secret recipes passed down in the family through generations. Each partia, as the recipes are called, consists of varying amounts of sand, oxides, mineral salts and powders – each week around 3,000 to 4,000 kilograms of these materials arrive on barges that have swum the lagoon. (Partia is Venetian slang for partita or quantity of goods, which applies in this case.)

The furnaces blaze as they always have, reaching peak temperatures of 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,252 degrees Fahrenheit) during the night to keep the partia melted and bubble-free. Glassblowers, who train for up to 20 years to master their craft, still blow long tubes with their mouths to create balloons of viscous glass. The balloons are then manipulated until they become one of the thousands of pieces that make up a chandelier. The company also makes glass art, vases and drinking glasses.

The next steps require manual dexterity (very few women have worked in glassblowing over the centuries as the work was considered too rigorous). They use an arsenal of vintage tools including pliers, scissors and stencils to create a piece.

Annealing kilns prepare the piece for manual finishing, and various departments grind, polish, clean, assemble, pack, and ship the finished product. 77 people work at Barovier&Toso, 30 of them in production. In 2022, sales have reached US$12.5 million so far.

Several techniques dating back centuries are still used by the company. It is known that vetro a ghiaccio or ice glass was used as early as 1570 when it was mentioned on a map of Venice; The cracked surface is achieved by immersing the hot glass, still attached to the glassblower’s pipe, in water.

Rugiada, or dew, with its tiny fragments attached to the glass to give it the appearance of drops of dew, was invented by Ercole Barovier in 1938. To obtain this glass, the surface is covered with many pieces of annealed, molten glass, similar to small drops of dew; sometimes gold leaves are added to embellish the object.

And to obtain a corteccia or bark finish, the blown glass is carefully placed in a pear wood or cast iron mold, giving the object’s surface the appearance of tree bark.

The company has managed to adapt its offer to the style of the times and today turns to designers such as the Dutch master Marcel Wanders or Stefano Dolce and Domenico Gabbana to create lamps for their brand’s Casa collection (single pendant lamps start at $175,300). )

Bulgari Group Executive Vice President Hotels and Resorts Silvio Ursini wrote in an email that Bulgari has a longstanding relationship with Barovier&Toso. The chandeliers, he wrote, turn the rooms of the hip hotels into “jewels”.

A lot of what Barovier&Toso makes is custom made and very expensive. At the bottom is the new Opera table lamp, inspired by the Opéra Garnier in Paris and designed by Philippe Nigro ($6,250).

Perhaps the most elaborate piece Barovier & Toso have created is the 16 meter (nearly 53 foot) chandelier they made for the Montreal Stock Exchange in Canada in the 1960s. Another contender would be the chandelier created for a Saudi sheikh in 1980, which required almost 2,000 pieces, many with gold leaf. The piece has proven to be influential, with luxury brands like Dolce & Gabbana using a version in their boutiques around the world.

In 2015, business owner Jacopo Barovier was ready to retire and the only younger Barovier didn’t want to join the business. After finding a buyer with a respect for artistry and heritage, Mr. Barovier decided to sell the business to Rinaldo Invernizzi, a local art collector and painter (who is holding his first personal exhibition entitled “Smeraldo. Antracite. Cobalto” in the frame the Venice Biennale 2022).

“I’m a huge enthusiast and collector of artistic glass, so I knew the Barovier&Toso brand very well,” Mr Invernizzi wrote in an email. “I accepted the opportunity and the challenge to lead this company with great zeal and respect.”

But he wrote that there would be some significant changes. “We invest in technology and collaborations with designers, change strategy at organizational and managerial level, open up to foreign markets and export these incredibly special glass works all over the world,” he wrote.

“What fascinates me most is the feasibility and possibility of renewal, even for a reality like that of ancient Murano glass art.”

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