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Discover Glassblowing: Murrini

"Giuditta" Photo credit: © Russell Johnson photographer - Lino Tagliapietra Inc

How beautiful is the word Murrina or Myrrhina? Hearing this term always brings to mind the fascinating island of Murano, perhaps because of the similarity of the sound or because we are aware of the long lasting tradition of this kind of glass. As we already know, there is always history and tradition behind every technique, term, and type of glass.

Murrino is an ancient word that initially indicated a precious stone coming from the kingdom of Parthia – Carmania to be more precise. This was a prestigious and expensive stone used to craft unique vases and bowls. Pliny, in his Naturalis Historia, described it as circumagentibus se maculis (Naturalis Historia, XXX-VII, 18-22), that is a stone with purple and white concentric spots. In his work, the writer also celebrated the beauty of glassmaking because of its similarity with nature: as he explained, glass art crafts may look like rock crystal, amethysts, sapphires, or Murrina stones.

Referring to the origin of Murrino glass, a common belief is that this kind of craft originated in Alexandria to then evolve in the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, the mosaic glass craft lost its importance and value; in the XVI century the Venetian artists started to reproduce glass-mosaic similar to the Roman ones; and the technique was then rediscovered and used in the XIX century by the Venetian glassblowers. In 1878 the Abbot Vincenzo Zanetti coined the word Murrina to define the glass murrine vases and bowls made by the Romans, and in 1880 Vincenzo Moretti revived this technique at the Salviati Glass Shop. It is worth noting that the Venetian artists used the term incorrectly, since they applied it to refer to a wide array of mosaic glass; while in the ancient time it only designated a specific kind of glass, that is to say the works of art characterized by a typical kind of glass-mosaic with concentric streaks that resembled the famous stone, Murrina.

murrina

“Osaka details” Photo credit: © Russell Johnson photographer – Lino Tagliapietra Inc

In the present time the word Murrina still has a broad definition: it indicates slices of a composite cane that creates a cross section pattern and, at the same time, a multicolored element inserted in an object. The so-called Vetro Murrino refers to a type of hot-worked intarsia, or mosaic, that is made up of smaller pieces of glass melted together so that the numerous tesserae merge during the fusion stage. To better classify this broad term, it is possible to distinguish it into the subcategories of Millefiori, Murrine with ribbons, irregular rods, spiral tesserae, and polychrome or gold ribbons.

Lino’s art is full of examples of Murrini glass; to name some we can mention the famous Osaka, Fuji, and Africa masterpieces, whose charm comes from the beauty of this technique.

Discovering glassblowing is always fascinating… We will discuss other techniques in the next blogs. There is always something exciting to find in this beautiful art form.

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