Caged Venetian (or Murano) glass lamps are a nearly timeless inspiration in lighting design. Their mix of metal restraint and trapped organic glass can range from sensual, to exquisitely detailed, to schlocky “Italian style” restaurant decor, and back again. (I have a conspiracy theory that those bad plastic pizza restaurant cups were styled after Italian glassware, inadvertently ruining the texture for generations of Americans.)
Glass trapped by metal may date back thousands of years, but this type of caged blown glassware lighting was dialed to a total art form in Italy by the late 1700s. There craftsmen in the Venice area developed glass blends resilient and plastic enough to hold incredible coloration and detailed imprints through multiple manipulations.
Caged lamps are marked by their brass or steel external frame, which is traditionally meticulously symmetric. The regularity of the expanded glass inside is fascinating when you stop to realize it’s all been handblown until the last couple decades. Up close it’s beautiful stuff. After stumbling across a Lithuanian glassblowing shop’s process video, I scrounged for more process information but came up fairly short. As with many heritage craft products, makers often keep their detailed methods to themselves. However, in a midcentury British Pathe recording of British glassmakers it became clear that artisans have approached the caged style similarly for at least a century.
In particular it’s interesting to note that the pre-texturing and expansion steps are virtually identical, over 50 years apart.
But this type of artisanal caged glassblowing isn’t all handmade for handmade’s sake. As large manufacturers like Pottery Barn and less experienced blowers have found – the traditional results are difficult to replicate.
As these stressed out gentlemen show, it’s not quite as easy as it looks in the videos above.
Modern lighting design updating this tradition includes exploratory work by Alberto Saggia & Valerio Sommella’s work for Vistosi (above), the broad-ranging caged collection by Sogni di Cristalo, and Pallucco’s Egg lamp below.
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