Murano, Where Ancient Venetian Glasswork Wonders Take Shape

The Seguso family's passion for glasswork burns brightly, even after 23 generations dedicated to the same painstaking but breathtaking craft.

Fragile masterpieces
Fragile masterpieces
Federico Taddia

VENICE — Giampaolo Seguso, 73, is equally adept at playing with words as he is with the sand he uses to blow glass. "Working in the furnace, I understood the morals of life," says the current chief of the Seguso family furnace. "In glassblowing you are both creative and a creator, and this helps you understand the more profound sense of being a living creature."

Seguso the material never ceases to surprise. "What you'll have in your hands will always go beyond what you expected to make," he says. "Glass is wonder and fragility ... of existence itself."

As he shapes the glass into transparently colorful works of art, Giampaolo recounts a story that goes back 600 years. Patiently enthralled, his three sons — Gianluca, Pierpaolo and Gianandrea — listen to their father tell their family history. They are respectful and curious, proudly aware of being in the presence of a witness to the family's 23-generation adventure in the glassblowing industry, a work of magic that has repeated itself every day since 1397.

Licks of flame thicken in the hands of silent and timid masters, who transform them into artworks with a delicate balance between temperature, gravity and centrifugal forces. Long, shimmering metal rods rotate between ovens as the artisans blow into them, varying the force of their breath to tame the molten glass and shape it in their desired image.

From generation to generation, this ancient dance has been handed down for centuries on the tiny Venetian island of Murano. Located in the Venetian lagoon, Murano became the world's first industrial district when Doge Pietro Gradenigo moved the glassblowers to the island to avoid the risk of starting a fire in central Venice — and to preserve the secrets of this incredible craft.

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Seguso father and sons — Photo: Seguso

"These are our roots, an immense cultural asset located in the essential context of Murano," says Gianluca Seguso. "For glass to be beautiful, it must not only be made in Murano, but made well in Murano. To us this means having a maniacal dedication to detail, because this is how it should be done."

Embracing the public

As his father tends to the furnace, giving light to new prototypes and artworks destined for his private collection, Gianluca and his brothers discuss their efforts to transform their father's passions and inspirations into a successful business. "My brothers and I can claim no credit for establishing what the previous 22 generations put in place. But it is now our responsibility to leave our mark and pass our passion onto those who come after us," says Gianluca.

This generation of Seguso brothers have revolutionized the family business, opening it to the public so everyone can witness the marvel of glassblowing. "We don't create glass here, we create emotions that are represented by glass," he says. "But before we do this we must first become enthralled ourselves."

From spectacular chandeliers to decorative tables with transparent feet, from classic and refined designs to minimalist glasses, the Seguso family's products — marketed as Seguso Vetri d'Arte, or Seguso artistic glassworks — are present in the permanent art collections of more than 100 museums worldwide. They also adorn royal palaces, luxurious residences, theaters, hotels, and products from luxury brands such as Christian Dior and Fendi.

Building on the ideas of Pierpaolo, the family's creative director, and the development skills of Gianandrea and Gianluca, the brothers have identified four central pillars of the family business: integrity, sustainability, mastery and beauty. "Not just aesthetic beauty, but mainly ethical beauty," says Gianluca. "We strive to help customers understand the meaning of beauty, because training our capacity to be amazed is the only antidote to mediocrity."

Meanwhile, in the furnace, where the ovens rise above 1,000 degrees Celsius, three different three-person teams are each composed of a master and two assistants. They are aided by metal pliers and scissors, wooden palettes to shape the glass, and drops of color that trace lines and curves on the glass like a paintbrush.

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Hot stuff — Photo: Seguso

One of the assistants shows us the black sheet and white chalk, with which they sketch the initial design that helps the glassblower understand what image they have in mind. "We draft, correct and revise the design together, looking for the perfect synthesis of shape and material," he explains. "These are things you can't learn from reading any manual. You must experience them in the workshop making mistakes and trying again, a slow education that retraces the methods of the Renaissance."

The master and his assistants trade fleeting glances, exchanging words in an incomprehensible jargon. They trace trajectories they have memorized to shape incandescent glass balls that change form in an instant, bewitching you just as you thought you'd understood what shape they would become.

"My father was a researcher and studied glassblowing techniques, but I'm an explorer. I don't care as much about understanding the problem as I do about being amazed," whispers Giampaolo. "I'm a dreamer. Visionaries suffer but dreamers do not. This is a crucial distinction."

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