Another major grouping of paperweights in the Barker Collection incorporates millefiori
canes in the construction. Millefiori-decorated objects have been created intermittently
from the time of ancient Mesopotamia to the present day. Bowls of fused millefiori
canes are known to have been made in ancient Rome and Alexandria, and there are
a few references to examples of millefiori work during the Renaissance. By the
eighteenth century, however, the technical knowledge for the manufacture of millefiori
was lost. It was not until the nineteenth century that a revival of the technique
appeared. By the end of the 1830s, millefiori were manufactured successfully in
Silesia-Bohemia. Within two or three years of its rediscovery, factories in Venice,
England, and France were also producing quantities of millefiori canes.
Creating a patterned glass cane
Process of Manufacture
Cut from long, thin glass rods, millefiori canes were prepared in the following
manner: The glassworker took a gather of molten glass on a pontil, or long iron
rod, and rolled it back and forth on a marver, or flat surface, until it formed
a solid cylinder. The cylinder was then pressed into a die-cut mold that had
a geometric shape or the outline of a specific animal or figure. The piece was
further embellished by dipping on additional layers of varying colors of glass.
As each layer was added, it was rolled onto the ever-growing cylinder or pressed
into increasingly larger molds to vary the cane's ultimate design.
Three example glass rods
The finished cylinder of glass, approximately six inches long
and three inches in diameter, was reheated until pliant. Pontil rods attached
to each end were pulled apart, stretching the yielding cylinder pencil-thin.
The stretched cooled cane was then sliced into hundreds of little discs, each
an exact miniaturization of the original design. For more complex designs, lengths
of the stretched canes were cut into six-inch pieces, bundled in a geometric
pattern, heated until fused together, stretched pencil-thin, and slices again.
In this manner, glassworkers were able to produce unlimited millefiori cane
designs from a limited selection of molds.
Making a paperweight containing millefiori canes.
Once a quantity of millefiori canes was produced, they were combined
into a variety of patterns limited only by the ingenuity of the artisan. To
create a paperweight, a design of canes was arranged in a metal ring, and a
gather of molten glass on the end of a pontil rod was brought down upon the
design. The canes adhered to the molten glass. The rod was repeatedly dipped
in glass until an adequately thick lens was produced over the millefiori design.
While still plastic, the glass was blocked and shaped. Slightly cooled to a
stable state, it was broken off the pontil rod and placed in an annealing oven
to cool slowly.
Types of millefiori canes
There are specific kinds of canes formed by the glassmakers. They include, in
addition to the myriad types of flower-like patterns, the simplest rod canes,
star canes, cog canes (shaped liked the cogs of a gear wheel), Clichy Rose cane,
and silhouette canes, which contain
a figure of an animal, person, or plant, a date or maker's mark.
Millefiori patterns in paperweights
Millefiori weights are categorized into types and named according to the configuration
of the canes.