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Millefiori technique

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History of millefiori

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
Zoom in on Creating a patterned glass cane 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 glass rods
Zoom in on Three glass rods Three example glass rods
France, 1960s

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 millefiori paperweight
Zoom in on Making a millefiori paperweight 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
Zoom in on Types of millefiori canes Types of millefiori canes

Cane types
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.

  • Scrambled Millefiori
    Zoom in on Scrambled Millefiori Scrambled Millefiori
    Clichy, circa 1845-55
    Scrambled millefiori weights feature what looks like a stirred mixture of different canes.

  • Miniature Single Cane Millefiori
    Zoom in on Miniature Single Cane Millefiori Miniature Single Cane Millefiori
    Saint Louis, circa 1845-55
    Single cane millefiori weights contain just one center patterned canes on a textured background.

  • Close Millefiori
    Zoom in on Close Millefiori Close Millefiori
    Baccarat, dated 1849
    Close millefiori weights contain a small forest of canes thrusting up from the base side by side with little space between them.

  • Chequer Millefiori
    Zoom in on Chequer Millefiori Clichy, circa 1845-55
    Chequers millefiori weights get their name from the filigree twists that act as separators among the space canes.

  • Bacchus Close Concentric Millefiori
    Zoom in on Bacchus Close Concentric Millefiori Close Concentric Millefiori
    Union Glass Works
    circa 1845-55
    Concentric millefiori weights may be closely positioned or spaced in rings around a center cane.

  • Pink and White Pattern Millefiori
    Zoom in on Pink and White Pattern Millefiori Pink and White Pattern Millefiori
    Clichy, circa 1845-55
    Pattern millefiori weights feature canes that are arranged in patterns such as lines, flower-like forms, or symmetrical rings.

  • Garland Millefiori on Red
    Zoom in on Garland Millefiori on Red Garland Millefiori on Red
    Clichy, circa 1845-55
    Garland millefiori weights contain canes arranged in loops, lobes, C-scrolls, or circlets.

  • Moss Carpet Ground Millefiori
    Zoom in on Moss Carpet Ground Millefiori Moss Carpet Ground Millefiori
    Clichy, circa 1845-55
    Carpet ground millefiori weights look like a carpet of small identical ( often star or rod) canes interspersed with larger spaced millefiori canes.

  • Magnum Millefiori Mushroom
    Zoom in on Magnum Millefiori Mushroom Magnum Millefiori Mushroom
    Baccarat, circa 1845-55
    Mushroom millefiori weights are those containing a central upright mushroom-shaped cluster of millefiori canes in a clear body, with or without overlays and printies.

  • Turquoise Overlay Mushroom Millefiori
    Zoom in on Turquoise Overlay Mushroom Millefiori Turquoise Overlay Mushroom Millefiori
    Clichy, circa 1845-55
    Overlays consist of a coating of colored opaque or translucent glass on the surface of a (Usually millefiori) weight, through which are cut windows called printies.
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