What is Murrine?
Murrine (sing. Murrina) are round glass tiles that have a design in the center. The design is made in glass cane (long rods of glass) and revealed when the cane is cut in cross-sections.
As far as anyone knows, the Phoenicians were the first to make a murrine although they must have called them something else, since it was the Romans who gave the murrine their name. In 61 BC, murrine vessels with geometric and floral designs were brought to Rome from Alexandria. This beautiful and unique glass was named for what it contained – myrra – the Latin word for perfume. In the first century BC, the Romans began to reproduce these vessels, but the secret techniques were lost during the Middle Ages and it was not until the 16th Century that Italian glass masters produced artworks imitating the Roman murrine.
How it's made?
I use the “warm glass” technique for murrine-making. It requires a “kiln on stilts,” a flower pot with a hole in the bottom, a glass punti rod, an exhausting number of glass circles. While the process can be done by one person, a helpful muse is a delightful addition.
A kiln with a hole in the bottom is placed on a metal rack 7-8 feet above the ground. A flower pot that fits in the kiln is filled with glass circles – typically 29-31. (As glass is very dear, scrap glass can be fused into “pucks” and used in later murrine firings.) Circles of various colors are placed in the pot in an order that will yield the desired result. (Care must be taken not to use colors that react with each other due to their mineral content. Combining these glasses will result in “kindergarten brown”.) On the top of the stacked circles, I often place a pre-fired “puck” created by placing colored glass strips or rods in a pattern. Without the patterned puck, the cut murrine will have a series of circles in their center. With the puck, some of the murrine will have a pattern in the center.
Place the pot in the kiln and set the program. When the glass reaches 1505 degrees Fahrenheit it is time to “stick” a glass punti rod to the glass gathering at the opening in the kiln with the help of a map gas torch. The size of the cane is controlled by the diameter of the hole in the flower pot and the speed with which the glass is pulled. The glass cane is cut when it reaches the desired length. I usually anneal (hold at 900 degrees to relieve the tension in the glass and prevent cracks/fractures) the cane for half an hour in another kiln.
When the glass is cool, it is cut into pieces with a saw and used to create pieces made entirely of murrine or to decorate other pieces. Typically, the finished product requires two more firings – one to fuse the pieces together and another to slump the fused piece into a mold.
The 16” blue murrine bowl featured on this website contains 1047 murrine.
When the Romans wanted to make a face out of murrine, they typically created murrine with a design that was ½ of a face. Then they put 2 murrine together, one the reverse of the other to make a full face. Since, in real life, no one's face is symmetrical, the Roman murrine faces look a bit creepy.