Did you know that in Venice there’s a library without books?
And its the most extraordinary that I have ever seen because on the shelves there aren’t old tomes but colours!
Around 5000 coloured glass plates, catalogued in more than 3500 shades: an incredible artistic heritage and an amazing eye-catcher for the visitors.
This unique place is located a short distance from the Jewish Quarter, inside the historical furnace Orsoni Venezia 1888. And if Murano island is certainly known to many for blown glass, not everyone knows that here, among the residential buildings in the Cannaregio district, Venetian smalti and gold mosaics have been produced for more than a century.
A hotspot for mosaicists, designers and artists, the Orsoni furnace is a very special place that I recommend you to visit: I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised. The company offers guided tours monthly, but hurry up and book as the waiting list is quite long!
The living furnace
Everything started in 1889 – the year after the Furnace was established – thanks to the foresight of Angelo Orsoni. At the Expo in Paris he presented an unprecedented sample of enamels and gold leaf finishes that were really extraordinary at that time. Those were the years of Stile Liberty, a period in which mosaics were widely used in art and in the decoration of residential buildings. Since then in the Venetian furnace the crucibles (melting pots) have never stopped heating the glass paste, and mosaic tiles produced by the Orsoni family have been relayed right across the world.
The visit to the furnace, the only one allowed to operate in the city, is a leap into the past. Besides the historic panel that inspired Gaudì for the construction of the Sagrada Familia, there is still an antique rotating cylinder press made of wood and invented by Angelo Orsoni himself.
Then of course there are the ovens where sand, soda and oxides are blended together to create the coloured smalti and even a precious golden casket: a luxury bathroom completely decorated with golden tiles. You can also breathe the atmosphere of times past in the cosy courtyard with a tiny garden adorned by colourful disused melting pots: real accidental artworks.
The Colour Library is certainly the most magical place and the explosion of colours catches the visitors eye right away, but the manual works that even now take place at the furnace are equally amazing. For instance, the colour sampling: a process entrusted to the sole sensibility of the Master of Colour to obtain the desired shade time after time. Or even the manual cutting of the slabs into tiles and the 24k gold leaf application with the “sbruffi” technique.
I was able to admire the ability and execution speed of the craftswomen responsible for the cutting of plates: in a few minutes they packed many bags of small coloured tiles of Venetian smalti ready to be shipped to construction sites all over the world. Tiles used to restore the classical mosaic of a church or to decorate the wall of a modern villa. From Los Angeles to Bucharest, from the London Underground to the Buddhist monument in Cambodia: every project can be enriched with a piece of this authentic Venetian artisan heritage.
The luxury, uniqueness of the manufacturing and the magic of colours led the historic furnace to cross paths several times even with the world of haute couture.
The suggestive Colour Library has served as a perfect location for the furnishings of Missoni, another great master of colour. And for the 2021 outdoor collection the Venetian furnace also created a huge sculptural vase hand-decorated with smalti that reflect the shades of the famous stripes of the Gallarate Maison. A superb combination of art, fashion and craft.
Recently, the fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana also selected Orsoni, along with other traditional and renowned companies such as Venini, Barbini and Bevilacqua to bring added value to the stunning debut of their new collection in the lagoon. The mosaics of the Venetian furnace enhanced the sumptuous rooms of the Scuola Grande della Misericordia, framing perfectly the exclusive home collection of the famous high fashion brand.
And even the wonderful colourful crucibles marked Orsoni had their celebrity moment on the fashion-system spotlight. They have been bought and displayed in Bottega Veneta stores within a project aimed at providing visibility and support for the artisanal excellence of Made in Italy.
Mosaic is therefore fashionable! But we shouldn’t forget the initiatives and commitment of Orsoni Venezia 1888 even in the field of art. For example, the institution of Mosaic Master that finds its perfect location here. And since 2020 the birth of the Biennale of Colour, a project that celebrate the colour in a holistic way, capable of involving all of the senses.
And I assure you there is no better place than the Orsoni furnace to experience the colours, you just have to find out for yourself!
Today the unique heritage of Orsoni is preserved and valued in the world through the global presence of TREND Group, Italian and international excellence in the field of glass mosaic and high design.