Glassy

The Moretti family is closely connected with the Murano glassmaking tradition. Many of the precious Moretti glass objects are housed in design museums worldwide. However, the family’s glassmaking tradition came to an end several years ago. The vast and partially decayed site of the former workshop on the famous glassmakers’ island near Venice still reflects the glory of former times.

Most tourists who visit Murano only stay there a couple of hours. Leaving the Vaporetto water-bus station, they make their way through the straight- forward tourist route, eat an ice cream cone, and ac- quire one of those kitschy glass souvenirs offered by numerous shops and mostly made in China. But just two steps further and round the corner, on the other side of this Venetian-glass island, ordinary everyday life in the sleepy marine village next to a lagoon in the Adriatic sea is ticking along nicely. The scenic places and walkways are quiet and in more-or-less good order, but many areas are abandoned.
“When I was a child, I often came here to visit my grandfather in his factory”, says Marta Moretti. She stands on the pavement of a wide and peaceful canal that leads from the lagoon to the heart of the island. The high brick wall of Fondamenta San Giovanni dei Battuti lines the waterfront, hiding the vastness located behind. Ulderico Moretti & C. is written in faded letters on the reddish-coloured wall that boasts an impressive portal. “That was the entrance to my grandfather’s office”, Marta Moretti informs, remembering the old days when Germano Moretti was still alive. Marta Moretti is one of the heirs of a centuries-old family history that recently came to an end. Even though Carlo Moretti is an established producer of artisanal Murano glass, the Moretti heirs in Italy and Germany are no longer directly involved in the business. After the closure of the Ulderico Moretti factory in the 1970s, part of this huge area in the heart of Murano has been rented-out for events.
As Marta Moretti opens the wooden entrance door, she asks us to be careful of the crumbling walls and drooping structures. A collapsed roof has caused a curtain of rubble to land on the old glass furnace. The 6000-square-metre zone on this side of the mas- sive wall is a labyrinth of leftover buildings, small and medium in size, some of them industrial monu- ments from the beginning of the 20th century. There was even a changing house for the artisans. Some of the impressive brick and stone buildings are still preserved, though their pipework and wiring are dangling. Courtyards and passages link the singu- lar spaces where the craftsmen performed several functions daily. More than 300 people worked here
in the 1960s. A red clocking-in terminal mounted on the wall serves as evidence of this. In the long, dark hall that reaches almost 100 metres, the deco- rative glass rods were produced by two men. With a glass bowl in the middle, they would each pull the softened glass in opposite directions until the object was properly formed. The cultural memory of the buildings and their powerful historical value remain alive, although nature has taken over, with brushwood and grass sprouting from every gap and corner.

At Moretti, all sorts of glass receptacles for use in chemical laboratories, as well as reflectors and ther- mometers, were made during World War II, when the workshops were fully active. As a consequence, the sons – as well as Marta Moretti’s grandfather – did not have to join the military. The master glass- blowers used these moulds artfully to make vases and other objects. The family’s glassmaking story actually began in the second half of the 19th cen- tury, when Vincenzo Moretti, an autodidact, became an expert at preparing glass grindings at Salviati. He was one of the most important protagonists in the renaissance of the so-called murrine – an antique Roman technique of hot-worked glass mosaic, like millefiori, which has since been forgotten. Vincenzo Moretti set up his own company together with his sons – they delivered the glass for the celebrated mosaic in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Mi- lan, and in the 1930s, the blown-glass light bulbs for the street lamps on the Piazza San Marco. But in the 1970s, the family business, as with most of the oth- ers on the island, came into great difficulties, mostly due to the heavy competition from abroad and the extra cost of producing large numbers of handcraft- ed items. Even if Ulderico Moretti’s season reached its end, the glassmaking knowledge acquired over nearly a century created offshoots. The most signifi- cant of these is Carlo Moretti, the artisanal company established in 1958 by Germano Moretti’s two sons, Carlo and Giovanni, and situated just a few blocks further along the same canal. The new business rap- idly conquered the international market with its hand-blown decorative glasses, vases, and chande- liers. Due to its knowhow in delicate design, Carlo Moretti became a trendsetter for expressive colours and glass forms. The formulas were written down in a secret book containing all of the family’s glass- making knowledge, which was passed down from one generation to the next. “Every company has its own formulas and ingredients that make the glass so outstanding”, Marta Moretti explains, while men- tioning the special Moretti red, distinguished by its distinctive tone.Carlo Moretti glasses from Murano became interna- tionally famous for their remarkable design, an ex- ample being the goblets – where opalescent colours are used in combination with pure Murano crystal – that have been adopted into the Calici da Collezi- one. “To create these objects, glass was blown into moulds made of pear wood”, Marta explains, show- ing us a large pushcart full of the old, rotting forms. “There was also a carpenter whose workshop was close by (he is still there -Ed.) – he was devoted to producing the moulds.”

In the 1960s, the Moretti brothers set up a show- room on the island, designed by Gaetano Pesce, a young artist friend of Carlo Moretti’s – still a student at the time. He also developed the company logo, which remains the brand’s signature, and designed several experimental glass objects together with his friend. The precious glassware by Carlo Moretti is collected by international museums from Israel to France. One can also find these treasures in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others. In 2013, after the two brothers died, the glass furnace was sold to a Holding, including the brand name Carlo Moretti together with its illustrious designs, mouldings, and glassmaking formulas.
“We are very concerned about the future of this area”, says Elia Spandri. The young Italian archi- tect, based in Munich, is another heir – his mother and Marta Moretti’s deceased father are brother and sister. Developing the whole zone means finding a potential investor, one who strongly wishes to re- tain the cultural heritage, gently adapting it to a new use. “The ground has a lot of potential; it’s a free space with amazing possibilities, such as stu- dent workshops, artist residencies, or exhibition spaces for a foundation. What we need is an overall concept.” Spandri is full of zest, keen to find a good architectural solution. His cousin Marta Moretti, based in Venice, is passionate about the history of Murano glass and is trying to preserve the family heritage for the new generation. Together with the other heirs, she wants to keep the memory of the family tradition alive and maintain an eye on the future, which is fundamental to the cultural history of this glassmakers’ island.

Text: Sandra Hofmeister

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