Venice has been renowned for its glass for over 1000 years, so it may come as a surprise to some visitors to learn that there is in fact only one active glass furnace in the city: Orsoni. Centuries ago, there were lots of other furnaces in Venice – but in 1291, a decree was passed ordering all furnaces to move to the nearby island of Murano. This was partly to limit the risk of fires in the city, but also an attempt to contain and protect the secrets of Venetian glassmaking – one of the Republic’s most precious and profitable assets (for quite some time, any glass master who dared to leave the island with his trade secrets was punishable by death).
Founded in 1888 (significantly after the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, when the furnace laws were no longer enforced), Orsoni is based in a quiet area of Cannaregio, near the Jewish Ghetto. It uses ancient techniques to produce 24K gold leaf mosaics, coloured gold and enamels in more than 3,500 colours – an archive of which is stored for reference in the furnace’s vast kaleidoscopic Colour Library.
Orsoni mosaics have been used in the decoration of some of the world’s most famous buildings. Clients and projects range from Gaudi’s Sagra Familia in Barcelona to the Saudi Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, Rudolf Nureyev’s tomb in Paris, St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Vatican in Rome and the Basilica of San Marco in Venice; since 1888, the furnace has supplied enamels and gold for the ongoing restoration of cathedral’s 8,000 sq metre glittering domed ceiling and facade. They also work on numerous projects with contemporary interior designers, decorators and artists.
As a busy working furnace, Orsoni isn’t usually accessible to visitors. However, they do open their doors for a public guided tour on the first and last Wednesday of each month: an unforgettable experience which offers a wealth of fascinating insights into the history and techniques of glass-making, and the story behind one of Venice’s most prestigious design brands. Tickets can be booked online at www.orsoni.com.