I was lucky enough to visit the Orsoni Library of Enamels whilst in Venice this week. The library is the working archive of the Orsoni glassmakers who produce mosaic tesserae for use in restoring and producing new mosaic masterpieces around the world.
Behind the ‘water gate’ (pictured above) is a foundry and the only glass kiln in the city. Raw materials are blended to a white paste in huge ceramic crucibles fired in a kiln at over 1300 degrees and mixed with metal oxides to produce over 3000 different colours. The “recipes” for these colours are a closely guarded family secret, handed down through generations. The cooled enamel is rolled into slabs and cut up into tesserae by women in house coats working on what look like sewing machines in the workshop next door. The family firm was founded in 1888 to revive the Byzantine art of mosaic and exploit techniques developed on the nearby island of Murano during the Renaissance. The custom made orders of mosaic tiles are shipped directly from the factory by boat, bound for the walls and ceilings of St. Paul’s Cathederal in London, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Tawn Hall in Stockholm and many more.