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.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Mexico's prickly pear cactus: energy source of the future?

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The prickly pear cactus is such a powerful symbol in Mexico that they put it smack in the middle of the national flag. It was considered sacred by the ancient Aztecs, and modern-day Mexicans eat it, drink it, and even use it in medicines and shampoos. Source
  • Eating the sun: How solar eclipses changed from terrible omen to tourist draw

    Tech & Science CBC News
    As we prepare for the moon to swallow the sun, cast your mind back 4,153 years ago, give or take. Without warning, people in central China saw their familiar sun disappear and become a ring of fire, in what today is called an annular eclipse. Source
  • Japan launches satellite for better GPS system

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Japan on Saturday launched the third satellite in its effort to build a homegrown geolocation system aimed at improving the accuracy of car navigation systems and smartphone maps to mere centimetres. An H-IIA rocket blasted off at about 2:30 pm (0530 GMT) from the Tanegashima space centre in southern Japan, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Source
  • After cracking down on neo-Nazis, tech companies wonder who should police online hate

    Tech & Science CBC News
    For more than two decades, a question with no easy answer has consumed international lawmakers, tech companies and internet users: How should we handle those who spread hate, racism and abuse online? This long-simmering debate came to a boil this week, after white supremacist website The Daily Stormer helped organize a rally in Charlottesville, Va. Source
  • Technology allows visually impaired, blind to experience solar eclipse

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Four months ago, Henry Winter was asked to describe an eclipse to a colleague who had been blind since birth and was initially stumped because he couldn't use visual terms. Winter, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, then remembered a colleague who had recounted the sound of crickets starting and stopping during an eclipse. Source
  • Man is charged with flying drones to bring drugs from Mexico

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN DIEGO -- A 25-year-old U.S. citizen has been charged with using a drone to smuggle more than 13 pounds (6.1 kilograms) of methamphetamine from Mexico by drone, an unusually large seizure for what is still a novel technique to bring illegal drugs into the United States, authorities said Friday. Source
  • Man charged with flying drone to bring drugs from Mexico

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN DIEGO -- A 25-year-old U.S. citizen has been charged with using a drone to smuggle more than 13 pounds (5.9 kilograms) of methamphetamine from Mexico, an unusually large seizure for what is still a novel technique to bring illegal drugs into the United States, authorities said Friday. Source
  • Eclipse to have big impact on California power grid

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- When the moon passes in front of the sun during Monday's eclipse California will lose enough solar energy to power more than 1.5 million homes, a figure that underscores the state's growing reliance on energy from the sun. Source
  • Asian carp found near Lake Michigan got past barriers

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Officials say an Asian carp found in a Chicago waterway this summer apparently got past an electric barrier system intended to prevent the invasive fish from reaching the Great Lakes. The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee says an autopsy shows the 4-year-old male silver carp originated in the Illinois/Middle Mississippi watershed. Source
  • Demand for eclipse glasses outpaces supply

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Ali Van Orman is still looking for specialized glasses to protect her family's eyes during Monday's solar eclipse because she never counted on demand totally eclipsing supply. She tried to buy a coveted pair of solar eclipse glasses for herself and two children from Amazon back in July, but the hot commodities wouldn't have arrived in time. Source