Murano’s reputation as a centre for glassmaking was born in 1291 when the Venetian Republic in fear of fire ordered glassmakers to move their foundries away from the (wooden) city. The industry shrunk sharply with Napoleon’s conquest of Venice in 1797 and his abolishment of all guilds. In 1814, the transfer of the city to the Habsburg Empire meant the death sentence to glassmaking as its rulers focused exclusively on Bohemia. Yet, the skills survived and were kept alive by singular artisans who dedicated themselves to the revival of Murano glassmaking.
In 1854, six Toso brothers opened the firm Fratelli Toso and revived the techniques of the past. Five years later, Antonio Salviati came to Venice from Vicenza to open a factory producing traditional Murano glass. His Compagnia Venezia Murano was founded with British backing from diplomat and archaeologist Austen Henry Layard and antiquarian William Drake. At the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris, Salviati exhibited over 500 works and received international acclaim. In London, the firm established itself first at no. 213 Regent Street. In 1898 the company’s new premises at no. 235 Regent Street incorporated a set of mosaic armorials along the façade which are still visible today. During the late 1860s, Antonio installed mosaics in more than fifty English Catholic and Protestant churches.
Using the new techniques developed by the firm, Antonio’s son Giulio Salviati worked on several buildings in Britain including Westminster Cathedral, St Paul’s, and the Albert Memorial. Murano left a distinct mark on the face of London. In 1999 the firm was taken over by French glassmakers Arc International.