Glass expert digs into mysteries of Venetian glassmaking

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A modern-day glassblower believes he has unraveled the mysteries of Renaissance-era Venetian glassmaking, a trade whose secrets were so closely guarded that anyone who divulged them faced the prospect of death.

See Full Article

Today's glassblowers work with methane-fired furnaces, electric-powered kilns, good lighting and proper ventilation. The craftsmen of Murano, an island near Venice, didn't have such technology, yet they still turned out museum-worthy pieces known for their artistry and beauty, using techniques that remained exclusive for centuries.

Through years of researching Venetian glass collections at American and European museums and comparing the artifacts with more contemporary glasswork from Venice, plus his own experimentation and many trips to Italy, William Gudenrath has created an online resource he believes explains Venetian glassmakers' methods.

"The Techniques of Renaissance Venetian Glassworking" - which contains videos, photographs and text - details how Gudenrath surmises glassworkers produced works of art with little more than wood-fired furnaces and metal blow pipes and tongs. The information was posted this week on the website of the Corning Museum of Glass in upstate New York, where Gudenrath is a resident adviser and teacher of Venetian techniques.

The gilding and enameling the Murano glassmakers added to their glass products had to be fired at higher temperatures than the glass itself to make the decorations permanent. The Venetians couldn't simply turn a nob to regulate the temperature of their furnaces, Gudenrath said, yet they mastered the tricky art of glass decoration by continuously reheating and shaping the vessel after the decorations had been added, a process he demonstrates in several videos.

"It's just amazing to me that they did what they did in those conditions," he said.

Gudenrath's knowledge of Venetian glassmaking and his research into the process, something he has focused on for 25 years, are a "fantastic resource for artists," said Jutta-Annette Page, curator of glass and decorative arts at Ohio's Toledo Museum of Art.

Gudenrath, 65, became fascinated with Venetian glass while a teenager in Houston, where he started blowing glass at age 11. But finding written documents detailing how Murano glass was created proved difficult, a result of restrictions placed on the trade hundreds of years ago.

To prevent fires, the Venetian government ordered glass furnaces moved to Murano in the late 13th century. The move also was aimed to prevent secrets of the glassmaking guild from being smuggled to competitors. Anyone attempting to do so could be executed under Venetian laws created to maintain the city's monopoly on the European luxury glass trade.

"Industrial espionage and that sort of thing was taken very seriously," Gudenrath said.

Competition from other European nations eventually weakened Murano's hold, and Napoleon's closing of the factories after conquering Venice sent the industry into further decline. Venetian glass experienced a rebirth in the mid-19th century, but Gudenrath said much of the practical knowledge of the original, secretive methods had been lost.

Some of the old techniques have been reinvented and are being again used on Murano, still home to vibrant, albeit smaller, glassmaking operations and studios.

Associated Press writers Michael Hill in Albany and Mike Householder in Detroit contributed to this report.


Latest Tech & Science News

  • Ashes of Stephen Hawking to be placed in Westminster Abbey

    Tech & Science CTV News
    LONDON -- The ashes of celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking will be interred at London's Westminster Abbey near the grave of Isaac Newton. A spokesman for the abbey said Tuesday the ashes will be placed there later this year at a thanksgiving service. Source
  • Google launches news initiative to support media, combat fake news

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TORONTO -- Google is rolling out a news initiative aimed at supporting quality journalism by stopping the spread of fake news and helping publishers pick up more subscribers. The technology company says the $300-million initiative will adjust algorithms and use new services to make users see links from publications they pay for higher up in their search results. Source
  • Canadians vulnerable to politically-motivated Facebook data abuse

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Every like, share and click you perform on Facebook is already being used to target you with content and consumer advertising, but experts warn that activity can also be used to subtly (and sometimes dishonestly) influence your political beliefs, especially with a federal election looming next year. Source
  • Indian wildlife sanctuary sees jump in one-horned rhinos

    Tech & Science CTV News
    GAUHATI, India -- A tiny wildlife sanctuary in northeastern India has reported a jump in the number of one-horned rhinoceroses. All of the world's five rhino species are under threat from poachers who sell their horns on black markets, often in countries where rhino horn is believed to increase male potency. Source
  • Crash marks first death involving fully autonomous vehicle

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TEMPE, Ariz. -- A fatal pedestrian crash involving a self-driving Uber SUV in a Phoenix suburb could have far-reaching consequences for the new technology as automakers and other companies race to be the first with cars that operate on their own. Source
  • There was one male northern white rhino left, and we euthanized it

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NAIROBI, Kenya -- The world's last male northern white rhino, Sudan, has died after "age-related complications," researchers announced Tuesday, saying he "stole the heart of many with his dignity and strength." A statement from the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya said the 45-year-old rhino was euthanized on Monday after his condition "worsened significantly" and he was no longer able to stand. Source
  • Elections Canada prepares to fight fake news, foreign influence in 2019 vote

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Elections Canada is erecting multiple lines of defence to fight fake news, cyber-attacks and foreign interference in next year's federal election campaign. Democracies around the world are grappling with new threats to democracy in the digital age, from foreign actors tampering with voting systems to the viral spread of disinformation through social media. Source
  • Are scientists male or female? See how kids draw them

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A new study shows more children in the United States are drawing female scientists than ever before, but as they get older they tend to draw more male scientists, meaning they draw what they see. The findings show kids "are in touch with their world" because more women have become scientists in recent decades, said Alice Eagly, psychology professor at Northwestern University and co-author of the research that assessed children's views of scientists. Source
  • Here's how to protect your privacy on Facebook

    Tech & Science CTV News
    As Facebook takes heat after it was disclosed that a U.K.-based company improperly obtained data from 50 million users, now’s a great time to look over your Facebook account’s privacy settings. But first, some background. Source
  • Ships stranded in North Atlantic by massive ice floes from High Arctic

    Tech & Science CBC News
    After a Canadian icebreaker was diverted from a research mission in the Arctic to assist with never-before-seen levels of ice off the coast of Newfoundland, a climate-change researcher is sounding the alarm about the potential for increasingly treacherous conditions in the North Atlantic. Source