Written by 4:41 pm The Makers

Barovier&Toso: Over 700 Years of Italian Design Tradition

A history and interview of Murano glass lighting maker with over 700 years of tradition.
Saint Germain Chandelier by Giorgia Brusemini for Barovier&Toso

The furnaces never sleep. Steps from Murano’s quiet canals they rage at 1,400 degrees Celsius, guarding 725-year-old secrets: The meticulously measured combinations of sand and precious minerals behind Barovier&Toso’s prismatic glassworks. 

Each week, some 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of Partia—precise glass recipes—are melted, blown, twisted and polished here on the Rio dei Vetrai, Venice’s river of glassmakers. It’s a rhythm that has flowed through Barovier&Toso’s workshop since 1295, expanding and cooling over 20 generations with one constant: the emergence of awe-inspiring crystal from the flames.  

Renaissance Beginnings 

Like most stories, the tale of Barovier&Toso began with being in the right place at precisely the right time. Ideally situated between Central Europe and the Adriatic Sea, the Kingdom of Venice reached its apex during the early Italian Renaissance by establishing itself, arguably, as the Silicon Valley of its era—but with silica. By mastering the complexities of artisanal crafts like glass and Mediterranean waterways, the Venetians’ prowess for technology and luxury goods—and the resulting profits—defined local politics.  

La Stampa Fornace (The Furnace Print), courtesy of Barovier&Toso.

Eager to guard their secrets and prevent foreign competition in the glass market, the Venetians created highly specific legislation to regulate glass production. First, they mandated that all glass furnaces—and thus glassmaking workshops—be moved away from central Venice and onto the nearby island of Murano, creating the moniker “Murano glass.” In print, they reasoned the move would prevent potentially devastating fires within the primarily wooden city. In practice, the law isolated glassmakers, making it harder for their techniques and precious Partia to be stolen and replicated outside Venice. 

The Venetians simultaneously recognized the need to encourage glassworkers to ensure the lucrative trade remained, so they offered glassworkers near-noble status in the kingdom. In fact, the daughters of glassworkers were even allowed to marry into noble families, inspiring glassworkers to establish multi-generational glassworks. 

This was the Venice where young Jacobello Barovier came of age, migrating to Murano and, according to 13th-century documents, establishing himself as a “glass master.”

Crafting Classics, Century-In + Century-Out 

Following Jacobello’s lead, each subsequent generation of Baroviers continued tinkering in the workshop, leading to renowned advancements in mouth-blown glassware. Angelo Barovier, the rare glassworker who combined artistry with scientific education, consistently experimented in the workshop, eventually creating what his counterparts considered impossible: perfectly transparent glass. Known as cristallo, the clear and luminous glass now referred to as “Venetian Crystal,” is as brilliant as leaded crystal but made without lead or arsenic. For centuries, the Barovier family was the only glassware maker allowed to forge cristallo, while Angelo continued to innovat, creating lattimo and chalcedony glass in addition to the famed Barovier wedding chalice.  

Barovier&Toso continues to use traditional craftsmanship passed down for centuries.

To this day, every product with the Barovier&Toso stamp is still produced completely by hand using long, hollow metal rods and roughly the same simple tools. Moving like metronomes from furnaces to cooling ovens and molds, each glass master—most of whom apprentice for 20 years—works with an assistant and several apprentices to blow, turn and pull each piece into the perfect form, working without interruption as the molten sand becomes firm and eventually rigid. The impossible twirls and delicate designs of each piece are shaped and pulled with small handheld pliers, hammers and grinders.  

The myriad permutations of fusing sand and minerals into glass—to say nothing of the endless creative options for decoration—allowed the Baroviers to continue innovating even after Venice’s golden age. Despite protectionist policies and Napoleon’s invasion—which temporarily outlawed the glass trade—Barovier’s furnaces blazed.  

In 1896, as the glass trade was recovering, Giuseppe Barovier and his brothers re-named their workshop Artisti Barovier, setting the stage for the family’s modern resurgence. Considered an artistic prodigy, Giuseppe developed the murrine, or mosaic, technique that defined luxury Murano glassworks for decades. Layering colored glass together, the murrine technique ensured Barovier works were identifiable, as did the crest that Artisti Barovier created. 

Metropolis Chandelier by Barovier&Toso

During this era, Giuseppe and his brothers also arguably invented modern Murano glass as we know it today: artistic, elegant pieces defined by their ethereal lightness, whereas traditional glass works had been characterized by weight and practicality. 

Expanding on Guiseppe’s enterprising spirit, his nephew Ercole expanded the Barovier legacy into the 20th century. Ercole and his brothers led the merger between the Barovier and Toso families in 1936, creating the Barovier&Toso powerhouse we know today.  

Ercole rapidly became the beating heart of Barovier&Toso, creating more than 23,000 pieces. In his 50 years at the helm, Ercole designed the process and the pieces for the mythical Primavera and Rostrato collections, distinguished by their gravity-defying shapes and inimitable patterns. The Rostrato technique, where molten glass is delicately pulled with pliers to create delicate peaks on fixtures, vases and glassware, has become a defining technique for Barovier&Toso. 

Production of the Venezia Wall Sconce by Barovier&Toso using the Rostrato technique.

The one-of-a-kind Primavera pieces, where hairline cracks create a cobweb-esque pattern, have since become some of the most highly sought-after glassworks in the world. Now fetching over $300,000 at auction, no other glassmaker has ever been able to successfully replicate Ercole’s technique.   

Shaping A Renaissance Legacy for the 21st Century 

Ercole’s reality-distorting masterpieces paved the modern path for Barovier&Toso, who began creating commissions for palaces, museums and luxury designers before retiring in the 1970s.  

By transforming perceptions of Murano glass from practicality to fine art, Ercole cemented Barovier&Toso’s timeless appeal. It’s why gazing upward at chandeliers in museums, palaces and luxury boutiques inspires similar wonder: The crystalline glassworks dangling from these peaked ceilings were made by the same family with the same time-honored—and timeless—techniques. 

Today, these showpieces grace renowned collections including those at the Louvre, Victoria & Albert Museum of London, and New York’s Corning museum, plus lobbies of Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons properties and the boutiques and homes of Dolce & Gabbana—yes, the Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.  

Baikal Chandelier by Barovier&Toso

In the 1980s, one of Barovier&Toso’s most iconic and frequently replicated designs was commissioned for the home of a Saudi King. The Taif Chandelier fuses classical elements of Murano glassmaking with futuristic colors and accents to create an everlasting piece that’s simultaneously traditional and contemporary. The first ever black crystal—created by using the darkest burgundy hue possible—continues to set these chandeliers apart, as do bright blue, orange and ruby red versions of the Taif.  

In 2015 Barovier&Toso entered a new era, transitioning ownership from Jacopo Barovier to Rinaldo Invernizzi, a local art collector and painter, passing the leadership torch to the first non-Barovier in history. A devoted designer himself, Invernizzi appears to be a natural fit for Barovier&Toso’s art-driven ethos.  

We had the good fortune of catching up with Barovier&Toso’s Chief Commercial Officer, Diego Martinez Dubosc, to talk about the brand’s latest chapter.

What is the company’s design philosophy/mission statement?

Barovier&Toso’s design philosophy and mission statement has evolved over time, but historically, our approach has been characterized by a commitment to craftsmanship, innovation and timeless beauty. We have strived to combine traditional glassmaking techniques with contemporary design concepts, creating unique and luxurious pieces of glass art.

The company’s mission has been to uphold the legacy of Murano glass and push the boundaries of what is possible with this ancient craft. We have aimed to create objects that are not only visually stunning but also showcase the technical mastery and artistic expression of our artisans.

Our designs often combine exquisite craftsmanship, attention to detail and a commitment to quality, resulting in luxurious and elegant lighting fixtures and glass artworks. Barovier&Toso is known for pushing the boundaries of glass artistry, experimenting with shapes, colors and textures to create unique and distinctive pieces.

What sets a Barovier&Toso piece apart from other Murano glasswork?  

The product should inspire emotionally; it should have quality, reflect creativity, beauty. Quality that lasts and is passed on from generation to generation, aesthetics and unique design that creates an emotional connection between the product and the consumer, rarity to create ‘objects of desire,’ symbolism (luxury products and spaces include a high level of symbolism such as charisma, perfection, style) and heritage built on traditions and craftsmanship.

A Barovier&Toso’s creation is a form of art and culture, going beyond the material use of it as a lighting appliance to a style, an ambience and a perceptible emotion. Choosing such a piece of art connotes a deep uncommon sensibility and delightful aesthetic taste.

Creativity, flexibility and know-how attend upon a client that is not satisfied with ready-made and ordinary objects.

What does “Made in Italy” mean to you?

Companies like ours: where all strategic and non-strategic processes are governed internally. We rely on a few external suppliers, only for some materials and minor processes. In short, our supply chain is light and in any case very short, almost zero kilometers. Furthermore, ours is a handcrafted and made-to-measure product, therefore we produce according to orders.

To then move on to a more cultural level, the value of the brand and the “Made in Italy” label will certainly become even more important, which is a guarantee and synonym of the quality of the project, of the materials used, of the production process in its entirety in respect of the territory and human capital. We will continue to focus on insourcing, already our distinctive feature, to internally control all stages of production—I would say almost obsessively—in order to be able to offer a truly excellent product.

What is the design and manufacturing process for a Barovier&Toso fixture? From start to finish, how long does it usually take to craft a light fixture for the Barovier&Toso team? 

Long and meticulous, the process that leads to the creation of a Barovier&Toso work is divided into multiple stages. The glass mass is worked and shaped by expert hands, thanks to the help of a series of work tools. They are tools handed down from generation to generation, who have known Venetian Crystal for centuries. Each of them has a specific function and is essential for re-proposing traditional techniques. The master carries out many processes by hand (freehand) but often the blowing also takes place with the aid of wooden or cast-iron molds or the glass is poured into containment masks for the realization of the glass in plate.

Producing by hand means modeling the material that will compose the final artistic product in all its parts, including every smallest detail. For this reason, the master glassmaker will employ longer times and phases than the big industry, with a greater commitment in terms of physical effort and with the possibility of having to make corrections during the creation of the object.

Each chandelier is different from all the others, but to give you an idea, a Taif Chandelier with 12 bulbs is made with 100kg of sand that corresponds to 160kg of molten glass. It takes 3,750 minutes in the furnaces, 900 minutes of grinding and assembling and 130 minutes of quality control and packing.

Has the Barovier style and aesthetic changed over the generations? Is there a hallmark or signature style to the brand’s works?  

Today, as in the past, Barovier&Toso interprets the tastes of the time by combining the glassmaking tradition of its ancestors with stylistic and technological trends and innovations. Barovier&Toso is not only a company that produces magnificent and luxurious chandeliers, but it is also a place where we still invent, create and test as we did 700 years ago. Innovation can have different meanings: You can innovate in materials, production techniques, shapes, colors, functions….

The design challenge is always to enhance the craftsmanship and heritage of the company, guardian of the art of glass for over seven centuries. The result of this creative work is a timeless, elegant, rich but not redundant design, with a direct and incisive personality.

Collaborating with prestigious, internationally renowned designers is a strategy full of satisfactions for Barovier&Toso, which paves the way for new interpretations and experiments every time, in the name of a lively creative growth full of stimuli.

What makes for good lighting—is there more to it than simply illuminating a space? 

Yes, there’s more to it than just lighting a space when it comes to good lighting. Good lighting is not just about the amount of light in a room, but also about the quality, distribution, effect and adaptability of the light.

Lighting, when designed with care, can transform the appearance of a building, emphasizing its distinctive features, creating suggestive atmospheres and enhancing the experience of architectural spaces. Light can influence the perception and interpretation of architecture itself, making it more captivating, expressive and harmonious.

Light has a significant impact on the aesthetic aspect of a room. Good lighting can emphasize architectural features, highlight design elements and create a desired atmosphere. It can be used to create focal points, play of light and shadow, and help create a warm and inviting space.

What should all collectors understand about Murano glass in general, and Barovier&Toso works in particular?  

The glass that is produced on the island of Murano is Venetian Crystal. It is Angelo Barovier who is responsible for the invention of a revolutionary formula which made it possible to obtain an unprecedented material with extraordinary characteristics of extreme transparency and brilliance. It was with a decree of the Republic of Venice, around 1455, that Angelo Barovier even obtained the exclusive right to produce Cristallo Veneziano.

What still today makes that material recipe, which has come down to us and further perfected, unique is the total absence of lead and arsenic. This distinguishes our Venetian Crystal from any other crystal on the market and makes the blown crystal technique, as well as the entire production process, executable in total safety by master glassmakers. Added to this is the fact that the absence of a metal in the mixture determines a slower cooling of the molten glass, a feature which allows slightly longer times to be able to model the crystal and therefore create complex and meticulously detailed decorations such as flowers and leaves which in other glass traditions, such as that of Bohemia (glass that contains high percentages of lead), we do not find.

Venetian Crystal is a unique, sustainable and safe material, capable of giving shape to works of great artistic value, the Barovier&Toso creations. All the Venetian crystal elements are made in our Murano furnaces.

There are over 700 years of Made in Italy tailoring in everything we create. A savoir-faire that is revealed in the creation of all our products, each of which has its own distinctive story.

The Barovier&Toso catalog offers a wide range of collections, each with countless possible combinations of dimensions, Venetian Crystal colors, metal finishes and lampshades.

If the customer does not find his ideal product within this range, Barovier&Toso is able to help him in the customization according to specific needs in order to create a unique and precious object. In fact, since each product is made entirely by hand and in an artisanal way in our Murano furnaces, it can be “sewn” to measure.

Barovier&Toso represents Italian excellence in the field of handblown Venetian Crystal production. Its ability to customize each product according to the needs of designers makes it an ideal partner for the creation of unique and exclusive interior projects. The passion and dedication of the Murano glass masters, combined with the innovation introduced by Angelo Barovier, allow to obtain unique works of art.

Our design department is available to guide the customer in the customization of the product which can range from small variations on dimensions and colors up to the conception and creation of a custom project.

After visiting our furnaces, our customers have the certainty of the quality of the product and the process and are happy to purchase a product not only made in Italy but made in Murano, where it has always been made for more than 700 years.

Recently, some Barovier&Toso pieces have started breaking records at auction. Is there any chance some older styles or previous designs will be re-released to capitalize on renewed interest in the brand and its pieces? 

In the design and art industry, it can be common for brands to repurpose or reinterpret historic pieces or previous designs to capitalize on heritage appeal and respond to market demand. This can be especially true if there is a renewed interest in a particular brand or style.

Barovier&Toso has a long history and a rich tradition in the production of blown glass and glass art pieces. We have a vast archive of designs and techniques that are constantly a source of inspiration for new collections or the reinterpretation of classic pieces. However, the decision to re-release or reinterpret previous designs depends on business strategies, market trends, and the artistic and creative preferences of our customers.

How is the company adapting to changes in the industry as far as new technologies, techniques, sustainability needs and other developments?  

We are working with the Murano glass Experimental Station (the only one in Italy, controlled by the Ministry of Enterprise and Made in Italy) and together with a hydrogen gas supplier to be able to test the first furnace with this technology as soon as possible.

In terms of environmental protection, with great satisfaction, considerable results have been achieved. We have planned and implemented a series of efficiency and modernization interventions aimed at reducing our impact on the territory. By installing, for example, bag filters, new generation dust collectors, we have managed to reduce polluting emissions by 99.8%, improving the quality of the air inside and outside the workspaces. Through water recovery and purification system first rain showers, on the other hand, we have managed to avoid water with polluting residues flowing into the lagoon and to reuse the purified water within the production cycle. But our commitment does not end there. First of all, we have ensured raw materials from nearby sources, in order to have a short supply chain. Furthermore we have planned and structured the various production stages to minimize waste of energy and raw materials. Finally, we are close to building a plant that uses the heat produced by the ovens to heat the environment and the water.

The company is always looking for solutions that go in this direction: effective and efficient solutions. Rationalization, but also reuse and recycling. In the furnace, the recovery of glass processing scraps allows them to be reused to prepare a new glassy mass at lower melting temperatures, thus also allowing for energy savings. Attention to packaging closes the circle. In fact, all the material used for the packaging of the products is recycled and recyclable.

What is next for Barovier & Toso?  

We will continue to do what we have always done! Today more than ever, customers are looking for unique pieces and experiences with high added value. There is also a return to simplicity, to the truth of things, to essentiality. A search for history and traditions, for the handmade. And in this “hunt” one can only look to Italy, where countless historical niche brands are improving and expanding their offer, thanks also to the collaboration with famous designers.

In this sense, a Barovier&Toso creation is a form of culture that goes beyond the material of which it is made, and its function but is a declaration, a manifesto of values ​​linked to the territory and to the valorisation of traditions which must however be ferried over and translated for the contemporary world.