Getting to Know Glart

Here’s a fun fact for you: Glass has been around since around about 3000 BC (in the Bronze Age), and glassblowing was created in Syria, in the 1st century BC. You may be wondering what that has to do with the price of fish – well, let me explain.

Glass is immensely important in our society. And, the fact that it was developed so early on in our history means that it has been incredibly important for our ancestors’ society, and their ancestors’ society… for thousands of years. Again, you may be asking what the point of this is. Well, fine you got me, I guess there isn’t a point as such, other than the fact that I think it high time that glass and the art of glass-making gets some much-deserved recognition and appreciation. I also think that a new word should be coined: Glart – Glass Art.

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Glass In Action
Courtesy of the Museo del Vetro, Murano
Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia

Think about it, glass is used for all manner of things – your drinking glass for starters. Would your evening pint be the same from a mug? I think not! Then we have glasses: ok, so contact lenses are valid alternatives, but there’s no denying that glass lenses got there first in the ‘helping people to see’ stakes. The computer screen that you are reading this from: also glass! As are the glass optical fibres which have allowed this article to be floating around on the internet.

Think glass is only to be found in reality, in the here-and-now? Think again! Where would Cinderella and Prince Charming be without that glass slipper? Or any of the storybook mirrors? Alice and her Looking Glass for example, The Evil Queen without her Magic Mirror certainly would have been a less scary villain, and Harry Potter certainly was glad of the Mirror of Erised! Incidentally, Kevin Costner could not have sent any “Message in a Bottle” without the glass bottle of the title!

Ok, I think I have made my point – we need glass.

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Lorenzo Radi
Small Jar in Calcedonio Glass, c. 1856
Courtesy of The Museo del Vetro, Murano
Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia

What is truly impressive to me is the fact that glass-making has become an art form. And not especially recently either. By the 10th century, Murano – a small island north of Venice – had become well-known for its glass artisans. Not only were they (and still are) masters of creating the everyday glass object, but they developed a reputation for producing high-quality jewellery and even chandeliers! Today, the artisans of Murano also develop exquisite glass sculpture. So respected were the glassmakers of Murano in 14th century Italy, they were esteemed as the island’s most prominent citizens, were exempt from any form of prosecution from the state of Venice, and got their daughters married off to the sons of the richest families in Venice! Whilst I think we should probably let today’s glassmakers’ daughters choose their own partners, I think that it is high time that glassmakers and artisans got back some of this type of respect. After all, they are integral to our society!

For more information on Murano glass, and the chance to see some stellar examples for yourselves, check out the Musée Maillol in Paris. This is the first French exhibition of Murano glass; Murano – Fragile will be held until the 28th of July, so for those of you who love a bit of French summertime, be sure to check it out! If French summertime is not a big draw, but you still want to see what the fuss is about, grab a copy of Albert Jacquemart’s Decorative Art!

-Fiona Torsch

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