Risk your life for the sake of art?
While art and cultural expression have been around ever since human existence evolved on this planet, the influence on the production and reception has varied throughout history.
So let’s jump back in time and space to a period when artists were still considered to be prominent citizens.
At the end of the 13th century, the island of Murano, located just outside of Venice, became the center of the finest and most sophisticated glassmaking industry.
Initially, due to the fear of fire hazard and destruction of mostly wooden buildings in Venice, the mayor ordered the glassmakers to move outside of the foundries, to the island of Murano.
In reality, it was a notorious attempt to contain and facilitate control of the glassmaker community and their art. The security of their craftsmanship lay in their ability to maintain the secrets of their discipline.
One positive aspect of the artificial concentration of the entire glassmaking industry on a tiny island, resulted in the intensification of the competition between the different glassmaking schools and the development of a very refined glass technique.
And although the Venetian governors went to great lengths to keep the glassmakers “happy” by granting them and their art with a noble status (& impunity from persecution from the Venetian State), the repercussions for practicing their art or disseminating any knowledge of the craft outside of the island of Murano were severe.
They were sentenced to death and rumors emerged that the mayor even hired assassins to capture and kill the deserter artisans who left the island. Of the dead bodies found floating in the canals, it was said that “they we’re eaten by a salamander”. Salamanders were foremost associated with fire (reference to the glassblowing furnaces) and were believed to be able to live through fire.
Nevertheless this did not prevent a large group of glassmakers to abandon their privileges and economic interests and flee the island of Murano to set up their workshops and spread their knowledge in surrounding cities and countries.
Large groups found refuge in the more “liberal” North, such as the Netherlands, Germany, France and England. And since the demand for Venetian glass grew drastically, their cities became major glassmaking centers.
To this day the Murano glassmakers continue to employ centuries-old techniques in spite of all the hardship that their ancestors had to overcome to be able to maintain and develop their art.
The term “all for the sake of art”, might not be such an understatement in the history of Murano glassmaking.
Murano: between Water and Fire