“Millefiori,” literally, “thousand flowers,” is a term used to describe a multi-color glass design used on vases, jewelry, and other objects. Millefiori was invented by the Romans, but was eventually lost. In the 19th century, a glass and paste mixer named Vincenzo Moretti set out to rediscover the technique. After long periods of painstaking trial and error, he met with success. His designs were made famous at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1878 and, once again, Murano became the envy of the world of glass design.
Making millefiori is a complex glassmaking technique that contains many steps. It starts with the making of a glass cane. Layers of liquid glass are applied, one on top of the other, around a rod. The various layers are molded to have different shapes such as flowers and stars. Different colors are produced using minerals and metal oxides. Cobalt is used in the making of blue, and iron in the making of yellow, as two examples. The glass rod, with all its layers, is then stretched, and when it cools it is cut into small pieces called “murrine.” In the making of a multicolor murrine vase, an assortment of murrine pieces are laid out, and the fiery vase, straight out of the furnace, is rolled across them so that they adhere to it. The vase is taken in and out of the furnace a number of times. It is heated and cooled, pulled and shaped, until it is left inside overnight.
Below is an ancient Roman millefiori bead.
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