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Solid and Stony or Wispy and Transparent?

The Effects of Glass Making on Venetian Self-Perception and Identity 

Lucas Burkart

This project studies the material features of glass in Renaissance Venice. Its focus is twofold: Firstly, it inquires about the effects of glass as a commodity on Venetian society and culture. Secondly, it will ask how the material specificities of glass, which could vary considerably, affected both the producers along with the milieus of production and circulation of glass. Much more than just an economic factor, glass and glass production significantly contributed to shaping a specific Venetian identity.

As Trivellato (2000) has shown, the glass industry’s organization was complex. It was based on a multi-layered interplay between the Republic’s institutions and various craft guilds involved in both the production and trade of glass. The persistent success of Venetian glass was neither the exclusive result of the control by the magistrate nor a matter of the continuously improved quality of the product itself. The flexibility in the forms of organization of the guilds, their capacity to adjust to market expectations and competitive situations and finally the availability of both male and female labour force in the Lagoon played a central role neglected by traditional research.

The present project expands Trivellato’s perspective of a social (micro-)history of Venetian glass industry by an analysis of the material’s effects and affects on Venetian society and culture for the period between 1450 and 1600. In order to do so, different types of sources, which previous research has tended to treat separately, will be examined:

  • objects of glass preserved in various collections and museums

  • different types of inventories

  • chapters of the arti

  • regulations on glass production issued by the Venetian magistrate

  • sumptuary legislation, pratiche  of the magistrato alle pompe  concerned with glass

  • recipe books of glass manufacturer.

The present project aims at studying the material language and grammar of glass in Renaissance Venice. In doing so, both production and consumption will be considered using textual and visual sources as well as surviving objects. By combining a wide range of source material, the project tries to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the affective dimensions, the agentic power, and the emotional impact glass had in Renaissance Venice. This means to ask how glass contributed to sensory regimes and emotional styles that integrated the material in the process of Venetian identity-building.

Rachele Scuro — PostDoc

Shaping Identity through Glass


This part of the research aims to investigate the role of glass production and trade in shaping the identity of the group the glassmarkers and of the other workers of the sector within the Venetian context; this also in connection with both the organizational system of the guilds and their relationship with the political and administrative institutions of the city and the State. It will also explore how, during the 15th and 16th centuries, emerging families from this industry were able to rise into well defined identitarian and social group of the Venetian cittadini.

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