Unknown Artist, “Millefiori Ewer, Bead, Goblet,” c. 1500, Murano, British Museum (Tait, Hugh. Glass, 5,000 Years. New York: H.N. Abrams, Inc., 1991)

Unlike the purity of cristallo, multi-colored glass was also made in the fifteenth century. Glass known as millefiori, literally meaning thousands of flowers, was highly colored and decorative. Millefiori is made by combining slices of colored rods of glass together to create a pattern that resembles a bouquet of flowers. The floral patterns created in millefiori were not always laid upon clear cristallo glass. They could be attached to colored, opaque glass, as well. The main colors used in millefiori flowers were red, white, and bright blue. Although millefiori designs are very beautiful, the complex design was used mostly in beads rather than in typical vessels. However, examples of millefiori glasses and vases do exist. Another type of glass that has a similar decorative aesthetic to millefiori is murrino. Murrino is one of the oldest decorative techniques in glassmaking history. Its origins date back to 200 B.C.E. and the Greek city-state of Alexandria where this technique was used for making mosaics.[i] However, Venetian glassmakers did not make murrino mosaics. Murrino pieces combine rods of colored glass in various patterns. Then, the rods are melted to form a single cone that is sliced into small discs and arranged to form a pattern, which is melted together.[ii] Murrino objects different from millefiori in the size and likeness of their patterns. Rather than flower, murrino patterns feature larger and more abstract forms and do not resemble flowers.

A sixteenth century ewer, bead, goblet each exhibit the complexity of the millefiori technique (fig. 3). These small works are now in The British Museum’s medieval and later antiquities collection. They are all predominantly a royal blue color with multi-colored small flowers over the entire piece. The ewer’s floral design was attached to clear glass when it was first made. It also features a gold lid, feet, and other decorative elements. The bead is a perfectly round piece of opaque blue glass with millefiori embellishments. The goblet is a similar has a similar form to the cristallo goblet made in earlier in the sixteenth century. However, it is much more complex in ornamentation, as it features many millefiori flowers.



[i] Pickvet, 148

[ii] “Venini: Working Techniques.” Venini. http://www.venini.it/eng/tecniche.htm (accessed December 4, 2011).


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