Millefiori: Thousands of Flowers
In 15th century Venice, Marco Sabellico gazed at a patterned glass sphere and remarked that the glass cane slices resembled the flowers that clothe the meadows in the spring. Abbot Zanetti, a 19th century glass historian, described the look of thousands of flowers in glass as Millefiori. Ancient glassmakers used cane slices to create mosaic patterns as early as the 5th century BCE. By 50 CE, when Romans invented glass blowing, mosaic glass died out until beads became a major export of Venice in the 14th century.
Ancient Glass Beads (600-100 BC) by UnknownBergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass
The blue and white slices of glass were cut from glass rods or canes. Cane slices were used to create patterns.They were often used in beads and were found as early as the 5th century BCE in Syria.
Objects like this were inexpensive and widely available after the Romans invented glassblowing about 50 CE. Making cane was labor intensive and lost popularity until the bead industry grew in the 14th century.
Scrambled Millefiori Paperweight Scrambled Millefiori Paperweight (1847) by attributed to Pietro Bigaglia (Italian, 1786-1876)Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass
The Rise of the Paperweight
By 1840, the bead trade and cane exports had been increased by Domenico Bussolin. Shortly thereafter, Pietro Bigaglia was awarded a medal at the 1845 Vienna Scientific Congress for his display of both tableware and the first millefiori paperweights, which used the canes of Giovanni and Giacomo Franchini. European glass markets had been suffering and Professor Eugene Peligot attending for France saw the paperweights as a new commodity. Within the year, French factory Saint-Louis produced a millefiori paperweight, then Baccarat and Clichy followed in 1846. Designs mimicked French flower gardens, and the craze continued until about 1860.
This paperweight was made as a souvenir item by Pietro Bigaglia to document the 1847 Scientific Congress in Vienna. The canes were made by Giovanni Batista Franchini and his son Giacomo.
Closepack Millefiori Paperweight (1847) by Compagnie des Verreries et Cristalleries de BaccaratBergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass
French glass houses responded quickly to the paperweights seen in 1845. This closepack pattern is named for the close cane arrangement. It is dated 1847 and identified by a B cane for Baccarat.
Although the canes appear upside down in this photo, there is a letter B and a date of 1847 made with glass cane slices grouped within the pattern. Not all paperweights were signed this way.
In this design limited colored canes create panels that radiate from the center. Normally, a weight like this would be centered by a large millefiori cane, but this ceramic portrait (called a sulphide) of Empress Josephine makes it rare.
Large detailed canes and whimsical animal silhouettes are set into a background of star shapes resembling a carpet. They are evenly spaced, giving it the descriptive name spaced millefiori on carpet ground.
Here, two continuous cane loops called trefoil garlands are set against small green canes that resemble moss. Clichy is known for more than 130 similar patterns modeled after French flower gardens.
Paperweights Outside of France
The Crystal Palace Exhibition held in London in 1851 shared a global perspective of new work in arts and industry.By this time, paperweight designs were shown by American, English and Bohemian glass houses. Their designs were distinctive using commonly shared techniques.
This delicately balanced palette of millefiori canes is overlaid with a white layer of glass that has been expertly faceted. The faceting is similar to that of the best Bohemian glass cutters.
This design features four rings of closely set concentric millefiori canes arranged around a large central cane. This factory made few paperweights. Their simplicity and soft color make them desirable to collectors.
This contemporary artist was inspired by the simplicity of the Bacchus factory paperweight designs. In this work there is a strong resemblance to the close concentric patterns and soft colors used by Bacchus.
Charles Kaziun began making paperweights about 1947, when there was limited production. He taught himself cane techniques by looking at antique French weights published by Evangeline Bergstrom.
This contemporary artist is inspired by various antique elements, but has developed new cane patterns and his own unique color palette.