Posts Tagged ‘French invasion’

Napoleon’s Role in the Decline of Millefiori Bead Production

05 Aug

Venice was the powerhouse of European glass bead production in the 19th Century. Unsurprising then that it’s strong trade links and booming economy made it an attractive potential acquisition for the power hungry Napoleon Bonaparte. Sadly, it was an acquisition that would have a devastating impact upon the glass-making guilds of Murano, and the future of Millefiori Bead production in Venice.

It all began in 1797 when, seeking to increase his dominance over Europe, the First Consul of the French First Republic sailed into the Venice Lagoon with his army, and effectively forced the city to surrender. Unprepared for invasion, the city was forced to comply, and eventually agreed to a new democratic government run by the French.

A peace treaty between Austria and France in the early 1800s saw the brief transfer of Venice to Austrian rule. However, they were beaten by the French at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, and Napoleon once again took control. Venetian bead production continued in earnest in Murano until 1814 when, following his defeat at the Battle of Leipzieg by the Sixth Coalition, Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, Tuscany.

Venice once again fell under the control of the Austrians who, intent on making Bohemia the center of European bead production, imposed hefty taxes on imported materials to Murano, and all exports leaving the city. The rising costs of production led to the closure of more than half of the 24 glass-making factories in Murano by 1820, and eventually, there were a mere five furnaces operating on the island.

A small, yet dedicated group of artisans continued to produce Millefiori Beads in Murano, however, it would be another 34 years before the fortunes of the island really began to improve. Six siblings, known locally as the “Toso brothers”, formed the Fratelli Toso company in 1854. They started out manufacturing commercial products such as window panes and vases, however, eventually began to diversify into other glass products – including beads! By 1869, the former epicenter of glass production had overtaken Bohemia to once again become bead-making capital of Europe.