Murano became the focus of Venetian glass
in 1291, when an edict of the Venetian Republic forbade glassworks
in the main town of Venice, perhaps to forestall the danger of fire but perhaps also to confine the master glassmakers to the single island of Murano so they would be unable to reveal the secret to foreigners. Venetian trade with the Byzantine Empire
had given them access to the secrets of Eastern glass.
Venetian glass production reached its artistic peak in the 1400s. But gradually other centres developed, particularly in France and in Bohemia, and by the 1600s Murano's supremacy was in decline. Venice was conquered by Napoleon in 1797 and came under Austrian rule in 1814. Since Austria had a vested interest in their existing possession of Bohemia, they imposed taxes on Venice to prevent it becoming too competitive. Where there were 24 active furnaces in 1800, there were only 13 in 1820.
The fortunes of Murano glass revived in the 1850s: in 1854 the firm of Fratelli Toso was founded, move from utilitarian into decorative glass, and in 1859 Antonio Salviati founded a firm that originally worked on replacement glass tiles for the city's ancient mosaics. But one of his master glassblowers, Lorenzo Radi, restored the ornate art of chalcedony glass, which the Salviati company exhibited in London, gaining an international reputation. This simulation of translucent striated quartz was originally invented by Angelo Barovier in the 1400s.
With the first Venice Biennale in 1895, Murano's artisans took on avant-garde styles and applied them to glass-making.