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a brief history of glass

It takes other people an entire book to sort out the history of glassmaking - we manage it with one table! Well, maybe not, but we hope this potted history will be of some use in making sense of the progression of developments. (All dates are taken from authoritative sources, though experts may differ on some of them).

15th Century BC

1499 - 1400

Glass first produced, probably in Egypt. Cartouche of King Thotmes III (1501-1449) on three vases. Silica (flint/quartz/sand) + potash (from burnt wood/bracken). Threads of molten glass wound around soft clay core & flattened, or core dipped.

14th - 5th Century BC

1399 - 400

No major developments

4th Century BC

399 - 300

The foundation of Alexandria in 331 (by Alexander the Great, after conquering Asia Minor, Palestine & Egypt) accelerates development of glass production..

3rd - 2nd Century BC

299 - 100

Not a lot happening

1st Century BC

99 - 0

Technique of blowing glass discovered. After the Roman conquest of Egypt in 27 BC, glass starts to arrive in Rome in great quantity, and the art is spread throughout Roman Empire.

1st - 3rd Century AD

1 - 299

Another quiet period

4th Century AD

300 - 399

Foundation of Byzantium in 300.

5th Century AD

400 - 499

After the sack of Rome in 410 AD. Emperor Constantine moves to Byzantium, which becomes centre of world trade. "Roman" glass now known as "Byzantine".

6th Century AD

500 - 599

Dark ages - another quiet period

7th Century AD

600 - 699

Strong Islamic influence. Degeneration of the art throughout Europe to a crude form, such as German Waldglas (forest glass). Cools quickly, leaving little time to manipulate it. Well-suited to cutting/engraving.

8th - 10th Century AD

700 - 999

First recorded reference to Venetian glassmaking in 982

11th Century AD

1000 - 1099

Records show Venetian glassmakers had contact with Alexandria.

12th Century AD

1100 - 1199

No longer the Dark ages, but another quiet period

13th Century AD

1200 - 1299

Byzantium captured by Franks & Venetians, but Venetian glass industry already well-established. Soda added instead of potash, molten glass now plastic. Metal tinted dark grey, green, blue or yellow. All Venetian glassmaking moved to the island Murano in 1291, due to risk of fire to city of Venice

14th Century AD

1300 - 1399

Presumably everybody too busy fighting!

15th Century AD


Renaissance of Murano glass after 100-year decline. Angelo Barovier invents cristallo (very clear soda glass - by adding manganese to soda glass), lattimo and calcedonio (agate glass)

1450 - 1500

Green, azure, blue and amethyst glass introduced in Murano, gold used in decoration


Enamel and graffito (scratched gold-leaf) decoration re-introduced in Murano (abandoned 100 years earlier)

End 15th C

Millefiori rods introduced into Murano glass decoration

16th Century AD


Filippo Catani introduces filigrana a retortoli (filigree glass)


Vincenzo D'Angelo introduces diamond-point engraving on mirrors


Vincenzo D'Angelo uses diamond-point engraving on other glass

c 1570

Venetian "ice" glass first mentioned

17th Century AD

c 1600

Incalmo and Fenicio techniques introduced in Murano

c 1620

Aventurine glass introduced in Murano


Lead oxide added to potash glass by George Ravenscroft in England. This results in heavy, clear glass, ideal for cutting. Tints of dark grey, yellow or green.

c 1690

Girasol (opalescent) glass introduced in Murano

end 17th C

Potash crystal used in Murano, in Bohemian style

18th Century AD

1700 - 1799

Period of crisis for Venetian glass. Glassmaking in decline; mainly beads (for colonies), some vitreous paste, enamels & common items. Mostly Bohemian-style glass


By 1710, the addition of red Lead had helped to eliminate most darker tints. Impurities satisfactorily controlled by 1750. Glass becomes increasingly clear during 18th & 19th centuries.


Copper-wheel engraving introduced, becoming more sophisticated toward the late 1700s


Giuseppe Briati uses Potash crystal in a Venetian style


Folded foot disappears from English drinking-glasses (brief revival in early 1800s)


Glass Excise Act passed in England

1750 - 70

Gothic revival


Bell bowl disappears from English drinking-glasses


Enamelling introduced in Britain


Glass Excise in England doubled


Fall of Venetian Republic, decline of Venice, ruled by French Republic, then Austrian & Napoleonic Empires

19th Century AD


Ground pontil introduced in English drinking-glasses(from 1760 on facet-cut wines)

1800 - 20s

Regency cut glass (typically diamonds between step-cutting)


Square foot introduced in English drinking-glasses in early 1800s

1800 - 40

Gothic revival (yes, another one!)


Cased/cut glass originates in Bohemia


Wrythen decoration disappears from English drinking-glasses


Hapsburgh occupation of Venice (lasts 50 years)

1820 - 70

Rococo revival


Sulphides introduced (also called "cameo incrustations")


Lithyalin glass invented in Bohemia by Friedrich Egermann

1820s - 30s

Various new colours introduced in Bohemia: violet, pink, blue, uranium-yellow & green (annagelb & annagrun)


Pressed glass begins in USA


Cased/cut glass begins in France


Cristallo engraving introduced


Staining introduced in Bohemia as a cheap substitute for cased and flashed glass

1840 - 75

Victorian "Gothick" style

1840 - 50

Lacy glass in production


Pressed glass begins in Britain (primitive `cut' style during 1840s)


Cased/cut glass begins in Britain

c 1845

Pietro Bigaglia revives use of aventurine in granito glass, and introduces multi-coloured filigree techniques


Strong Bohemian influence in Britain in the late 1840s


Glass Excise Act in England repealed


Silvered ("mercury") glass invented

c 1850 - 1900

Recovery of Venetian style (much imitated abroad); copies of pre-Roman & Roman glass. Rediscovery of forgotten techniques


Acid etching becomes popular (first discovered in Sweden 1771)


Moulded "Roman pillars" style in vogue


Ruby (Cranberry) glass in fashion. The year of the Great Exhibition


Fratelli Toso begin to produce antique-style artistic objects


Lorenzo Radi rediscovers calcedonio glass


Air-trap decoration & acid-polishing patented by W H, B & J Richardson


Reproduction of complex Settecento (18th Century) forms in Murano


Gadget invented


Historic Venetian Glass museum established in Murano town hall


Strong Venetian influence in Britain as a result of London International Exhibition


Geometric etching machine invented (first patterns were Greek key & overlapping circles)


Antonio Salviati founds Salviati & Co (backed by English associates)


Dab handle (bottom to top) introduced (traditional Pump handle [top to bottom] continued briefly)


Cutting-off machines invented


First use of murrhine for 1000 years by Vincenzo Moretti of Salviati & Co. Copies of ancient "sand-core" glassware with combed-thread decoration


Crimping introduced, becoming gradually more complex


Machine threading invented


Crackle glass first produced


Paris Universal Exhibition. Salviati & Co present engraved gold-leaf between two layers of glass; copies of palaeo-Christian glass & Augustean cameos. Iridescent (bronze) glass discovered, shown by Thomas Webb at the exhibition

1878 - 1907

Rock Crystal glass produced (copper-wheel engraved)


Widespread use of acid-polishing & satin air-trap decoration (both originally patented by Richardsons in 1857). Cameo cutting & etching introduced. Trapped enamel decoration begins. Furnace-applied decoration from mid 1880s


Heat-sensitive glass in production (Amberina patented in USA 1883). "Pull-up" technique introduced


Silver electrodepositing on glass discovered


Intaglio cutting introduced (stone wheel cutting)


Verre-sur-verre technique introduced

late 1800s

Development of "modern" Venetian style, consisting of dainty objects decorated with dragons, serpents & other brightly-coloured animals. The ancient Egyptian technique of pâte-de-verre re-introduced in France by Cros, Dammouse, Décorchement, Argy-Rousseau,

20th Century AD

1900 - 1999

Soda-lime glass (lime adds stability & weather-proofing) still used for bottles, windows, light-bulbs; Lead-potash glass for tableware, Boro-silicate for laboratory & ovenware

early 1900s

Murano glassmaking still entrenched in traditional patterns, despite Art Nouveau revolution elsewhere. Overly dependent on tourist industry


Only four of the twelve major Murano glassworks still open (Compagnia di Venezia e Murano, Fratelli Toso, Artisti Barovier, Ferro Toso & Co)

1910 - 20

Belated Art Nouveau influence in Murano: Vittorio Toso with Hans Stoltenberg Leche for Fratelli Toso; Vittorio Zecchin with Teodoro Wolf-Ferrari for Artisti Barovier

1913 - 25

Murrhine designs by Giuseppe, Ercole & Nicolo Barovier for Artisti Barovier


Graal glass developed at Orrefors by Simon Gate, with Albert Ahlin and Knut Bergqvist


Cappellin & Venini produce undecorated but decorative pieces "light as a soap bubble, fragile and supremely useless"


Paris "Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes" (Art Deco: anti-functional and based on elegant craftsmanship). Italian selection committee demanded the "rare and difficult object"

1928 - 30s

Murano Novecento style; soft, plastic, sometimes asymmetric shapes. At first often opaque, from c 1936 consistently transparent. Often sommerso, internal layers gold-leaf, bullicante or sfumato - externally iridescent or corroso


Ariel glass introduced at Orrefors by Edvin Öhrström, and developed by Vicke Lindstrand

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