Venetian Glass Beads
Colored Venetian Glass Beads
Similar beads cut from the same tube
The round beads with mosaic patterns are hand  
turned on an open flame with other glass or impurities added  
The glass cane (or individual tubing) is heated to a molten state and wrapped around a metal rod until the desired shape. Several layers of glass in varying colors, might be added as well as gold and silver leaf, to produce Venetian glass bead effects. The bead is then cooled very slowly and finally removed from the rod which leaves the hole for stringing 

(mrä´n)  is a suburb of Venice, NE Italy, on five small islands in the Lagoon of Venice. From the late 13th century it was the center of the Venetian glass industry, which reached a peak in the 16th century and was revived in the 19th century by Antonio Salviati. Today mirrors and optical instruments are also manufactured. With its old houses, canals, and bridges, Murano has the same quaint charm as Venice. Of note are a Venetian-Byzantine basilica (7th–12th cent.) and a museum of old and new Venetian glass.   
(The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition.  2000) 
Venetian Glass Workers 
John Singer Sargent -- American painter  
The Art Institute of Chacago, IL 
Oil on canvas 
55.9 x 83.8 cm (22 x 33 in.) 
Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection 
Jpg: The Art Institute of Chacago 

In many of Sargent’s Venetian Studies of 1880 and 1882 he shows Venetian women stringing glass beads for the tourist trade. In a footnote of Linda Ayres essay, she explains that what they are holding are long colored glass tubes. 

These glass tubes (also called cane) were probably made in Murano, then cut to bead size and passed on to women bead stringers. It appears that, in this scene, the glass tubes are being cut. 

What we are seeing is an early stage of the bead creation. After they have been cut, the individual beads are then sometimes re-fired  to inlay other glass for mosaics and designs. These were done by hand and one at a time. 

The image of Sargent's painting is woefully inadequate at showing, without seeing the original, what he's  been able to accomplish. Linda Ayres describes it this way: 

Two men (the first we have seen in Sargent’s interior Genre paintings) and three women emerge ghostlike from the extremely dark background. But the glass workers are not the true subjects of the painting. Light – vibrant, shimmering light – is Sargent’s focus in this work. A window to the left and another , unseen window admit light to the workroom. Light reflects dramatically on white and pale blue glass. Sargent freely wielded his brush throughout the painting, especially on the thin glass bundles. In a technical tour de force, he rendered each bundle with just one brush stroke, the individual bristles of his brush creating separate rods.  
(Linda Ayres, Patricia Hills book, P.55.) 
In Sargent's painting Italian Girl with Fan,  David McKibbin has speculated that the model Gigia Viani is actually holding is a bundle of glass tubes prior to being cut 

Italian Girl with Fan  


One of the earliest detailed descriptions of the Venetian bead industry is contained in an obscure book published in French in 1847 by the Venetian glassmaker Domenico Bussolin. Intended as a "Guide for the Foreigner, " this work contains good information concerning bead manufacturing techniques and the socioeconomic aspects of the industry. To make this text generally available, a translation was prepared by Karklins and Adams: Dominique Bussolin on the Glass-Bead Industry of Murano and Venice (1847), by Karlis Karklins with Carol F. Adams


John Singer Sargent, An Exhibition -- Whitney Museum, NY & The Art Institute of Chicago 1986-1987
Created 9/29/2000