A Story of Stolen Secrets and A Surprise That Saved Murano
Naturally, Murano came back from that disaster in such a way as to secure its place at the top of luxury glass production for another four hundred years. Whereas Bohemian crystal was hard and most suitable to carving, cristallo Veneziano could be sculpted into any shape the glass masters desired. They put their imaginations and artistic skills to work, and thus was born the “ciocca”, the signature Murano glass chandelier adorned with intricately sculpted flowers. Murano glass chandeliers instantly became, and remain to this day, the global standard in luxury interior lighting.
As no tale would be Venetian without a touch of irony, know this: Giuseppe Briati, the creator Venice' most famous chandelier, the Ca'Rezzonico, and whose work is largely credited with having lifted Murano out of its late-Renaissance slump, is rumored to have presented himself as a porter in a Bohemian glass factory in order to learn the secrets of working Bohemian crystal. He, of course, then brought those secrets back to Murano.
Keeping Secrets in the Digital Age: No Photos!
While increased tourism in Venice should have resulted in a boon for Murano glass artists, and Venetian artisans in general, the coincident “trade liberalization” that came with it has had the opposite effect. The unregulated importation and sale of fake “Murano” glass in Venice now happens on such a scale that not only is more than half of the Murano glass for sale in central Venice fake, it is also so prevalent and so mis-advertised that even the most educated of customers mistake it for real. Imitation Murano glass is even sold abroad and online, under the name of “Murano glass”, thus further diluting the reputation of the real thing.
To protect Murano glass from counterfeiting, it was no longer enough to keep the methods of making, and the techniques for shaping, glass secret. Some Murano glass masters came to fear that even finished pieces of Murano glass, while they must be sold, must not fall before the wrong eyes, nor camera lens, lest they become the models for more mass-produced chotsky. Hence, “no photos”. And, despite the fact that visitors in Venice now-a-days seem to shop much more with their cameras than they do with their credit cards, the no photos rule appears to have been remarkably effective when it comes to Murano glass.
So effective is the rule that, even though everyone has seen Dal Moro's Pasta To Go, many visitors arrive on Murano with no idea whatsoever of what to expect of Murano glass. Not only have they never seen a picture of the real thing, their impression of “Murano” glass is already eschewed by the jumble of fakes that they've seen in the center of town. Real Murano glass is a secret. Thus do people wander around Murano in shock and awe at all of the beautiful things that can be made of glass, and the price tags on those things. Their ignorance of the art causes sadness and dismay in the hearts of shopkeepers. And, they often leave the island without having made a purchase. At best, they sail off dreaming of a houseful of Murano glass treasures. At worst, they hurry on back to their computers to write the misinformed online reviews that now populate most first-page online search results for “shopping on Murano” and “shopping for Murano glass”.
Talk About Murano and Murano Glass: Where There are Secrets, Rumors Abound
Misinformed reviews? Yes. By the boatload. With Murano glass concealed ever more closely behind its veil of secrecy, who can blame people for being misinformed? None of the most prominent contemporary travel guides, either online nor in print, contains many pictures of contemporary, or even modern, Murano glass. And, many professional travel publications that include Murano are grossly lacking in information, or are just plain wrong. This adds to the confusion of travelers and may also detract from the number of customers there are for real Murano glass. Some examples:
- The "Europe for Visitors" Guide to Murano, a top English-language website for information about travel in Venice, contains not only a serious lack of information about real Murano glass, it also contains a link to the website of an obvious counterfeiter.
- Fodor's, a guide popular with educated and affluent American travelers, two-paragraph summary of Murano closes by recommending that shoppers interested in making secure investments in glass avoid Murano and stick to shopping in Piazza San Marco.
- The Telegraph U.K.'s Venice expert recommends only one shop on Murano and accuses the others of being full of “cheap tourist tat”.
- The L.A. Times recent article about Venice closed with the caution that, “If you find a piece of glass and feel compelled to buy because you'll never be able to find the shop again, don't worry. It'll be in the next shop you walk into.” (The only explanation for this last is that this journalist was completely duped by fake Murano glass in Venice.)
These last are, of course, the most harmful to the reputation of Murano and Murano glass. Not only do they contain the least-educated information possible, these reviews surface on the internet based on their popularity with readers rather than the quality of their content. The most frequently clicked upon reviews surface first and, given the public's appetite for bad news, that means that the negative reviews surface first. This is true even when, as is the case with Murano glass, the positive reviews actually outnumber the negative. The first TripAdvisor result for “shopping on Murano” is a negative review written in 2008. That is an outdated shame.
Where is this conversation going? Speak Up About Murano Glass !
As ever, I am optimistic. The existence of fake “Murano” glass in Venice is not a secret. When I meet other travelers, distinguishing real from fake Murano glass is usually among the first things that they ask me about. That is good news! It means that they know enough to understand the risk, and they still want to shop for Murano glass. What remains is to introduce them to real Murano glass.
OG Venice Travel Guide challenges all other travel writers, authors and bloggers about Venice to revisit, revise and update their writings about Murano and Murano Glass. I will be here endeavoring to do the same.