Millefiori is a glasswork technique which produces distinctive decorative patterns on glassware.
The term millefiori is a combination of the Italian words “mille” (thousand) and “fiori” (flowers). Apsley Pellatt (in his book “Curiosities of Glass Making”) was the first to use the term “millefiori”, which appeared in the Oxford Dictionary in 1849. The beads were called mosaic beads before then. While the use of this technique long precedes the term millefiori, it is now frequently associated with Venetian glassware.
More recently, the millefiori technique has been applied to polymer clays and other materials. Because polymer clay is quite pliable and does not need to be heated and reheated to fuse it, it is much easier to produce millefiori patterns than with glass
The manufacture of mosaic beads can be traced to Ancient Roman, Phoenician and Alexandrian times. Canes, probably made in Italy, have been found as far away as 8th century archaeological sites in Ireland, and millefiori was used in thin slices to brilliant effect in the early 7th century Anglo-Saxon jewellery from Sutton Hoo.
The technical knowledge for creating millefiori was lost by the eighteenth century, and the technique was not revived until the nineteenth century. Within several years of the technique’s rediscovery, factories in Italy, France and England were manufacturing millefiori canes. They were often incorporated into fine glass art paperweights.
Until the 15th century, Murano glassmakers were only producing drawn Rosetta beads made from mould-made Rosetta canes. Rosetta beads are made by the layering of a variable number of layers of glass of various colors in a mould, and by pulling the soft glass from both ends until the cane has reached the desired thickness. It is then cut into short segments for further processing.
The millefiori technique involves the production of glass canes or rods, known as murrine, with multicolored patterns which are viewable only from the cut ends of the cane. A murrine rod is heated in a furnace, pulled until thin while still maintaining the cross section’s design, and then cut into beads or discs when cooled. If you are a sushi fan visualize how the rolls are made then cut into slices – and the inside pattern is visible.
Polymer clay as replicated this style of bead making in clay – they go through a baking process and not an annealing process.
Today the technique is copied by the Indians, and Chinese.
Other names associated with this style bead: African Trade bead, Venetian Trade bead.
Beads primarily made by Muranos and Venetians.Muranese beadmakes entered the bead business in the second half o the 15th Century.
Millefiori Beads, Mosaic Beads, African Trade Beads, Slave beads, Powder Glass Beads, Murano Beads, Venetian Beads. Italians have been making beads for centuries.
European explorers and traders arriving in West Africa in the early fifteenth century noted an abundance of gold jewelry, including beaded necklaces and bracelets. Glass beads were bartered by Africans for incense, ivory, tortoiseshell, horn, oils, timber, iron, and other metals. Between the 1500s and 1867, it’s estimated that fifteen million slaves were shipped from Africa to the Americas for the exchange of European glass beads.
This covers just one of the styles of beads produce in Italy. More to come: Feather, Wedding cake, Fancies, Chevrons and others to follow.
Below are new Venetian Millefiori Beads, Beads created by Luigi Catelan of Murano, Bead trade card from Venice, Venetian Trade Bead Strand traded to W. Africa