The first reference to glass making in Venice dates shortly before 1000 AD. A certain Domenico, who made glass bottles, is referred to by the then Doge of Venice in an act of donation to the church of St George on the island of St George in the bay of St Mark. It was not until the 15th century that the particular sort of glass produced in Venice known as cristallo began to attract attention all over Europe. The attraction lay in the fact that it was light and bright and could be used to create attractive shapes.

Another sort of glass was developed, calcedonio, which imitated the variegated semi-precious stone chalcedony. In 1612 Antonio Neri, a Florentine priest, published the first important book on glassmaking which included numerous recipes for glass ranging from opaque white to aventurine and opaline.

In the mid-15th century mould blowing of glass was introduced to decorate vessels and create applied motifs such as masks or lion-heads.

In the second half of the 15th century the technique of making use of coloured canes of glass was re-introduced. It had been used by Roman glassmakers but had been more or less lost after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Later Venetian glassmakers made use of opaque white canes to produce vetro a filigrana, cristallo vessels decorated with patterns of white stripes, sometimes with red or blue elements included.

Diamond point engraving and enamelled decoration were used extensively resulting in highly skilled craftsmen producing expensive vessels for the use of the richest members of society at the time.

Because of the popularity of Venetian glass, the style was initiated in many parts of Europe. Glassmakers in southern France and Spain produced façon de venise vessels using basic materials similar to those used on the island of Murano which had become the centre of Venetian glassmaking. The skill of workers on Murano was so important that they were forbidden on pain of death to move elsewhere. However, some workers did move to Spain and northern European states, particularly the Netherlands and Northern France where façon de venise glass was produced. The glass from these regions is known as wald glas or wood glass as the flux was made from charcoal produced by burning wood or bracken which produces potassium carbonate. This glass tends to be somewhat darker in colour than cristallo, the basic material of which is not common sand but finely ground quartz pebbles rigorously screened to ensure yellow and black veins were not present. The flux used for cristallo was derived from the ash of salsolo soda and salsola kali bushes that grew in the Levantine coastal region. The combination of these materials produces the clear glass of typical of Venice.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, in 1571, Giacomo Verzellini was brought to London by Jean Carré, a French glassmaker who owned the Crutched Friars Glassworks. Carré died in 1572. In 1575 Verzellini took charge of the glasshouse and was given a twenty one year monopoly to make Venetian style glass in England. As a result he laid the foundations for the English glassmaking tradition although his style was a version of the forms he learned in Murano. Unfortunately, very little of his glass has survived and most of the known pieces are in major museums.

This brief article seeks to illustrate the development of Venetian and façon de venise glass from the fifteenth to the twentieth century. Inevitably it merely scratches the surface of this huge subject but it is hoped it will give some idea through the following illustrations. Most of the pieces shown have at some point passed through the stock of Brian Watson Antique Glass. The situation of any which have not is recorded with the text accompanying the images. Some of the pieces or similar ones will be available for purchase at the Olympia Art and Antiques Fair in the first week of November 2022.


A page from the catalogue of the Slade Collection of early glass which was given to the British nation on the death of Felix Slade in 1868.

Some of these glasses are on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London today. The glasses shown here are Venetian wineglasses from the 16th and 17th centuries.

A bronze mounted jug of vivid blue glass

A bronze mounted jug of vivid blue glass incorporating murrina made of slices of canes of glass such as those used in paperweights. This piece was made about 1500 in Venice and was part of the Slade Collection. It is now in the British Museum in London. The illustration is from page 55 of ¨Le verre de Murano¨ by Attilia Dorigato published in French by Citadelles and Mazenod in 2003.

brian glass

An early 16th century table centre bowl with applied blue-­‐black stringing. Similar shaped bowls with coloured enamelling were also produced from the end of the 15th century.

A small barrel-­‐shaped beaker 16th century

A small barrel-­‐shaped beaker decorated with panels of lattimo threads and bound with applied threads of clear glass. Façon de venise, probably from the Netherlands, which would have been produced in the second half of the 16th century.

To read the full article and view his collection visit Brian Watson’s website here: