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History of Orsoni Smalti

Photos and Text supplied by Orsoni Mosaici- all rights reserved

At 1045 Fondamenta di Cannaregio in Venice, high old walls conceal the fascination of a nineteenth-century glass furnace, as though to protect it.It is the foundry of Angelo Orsoni, the prestigious Venetian company that manufactures glass mosaic with gold leaf and enamels.

It is enough to step over the threshold to be carried away by the magic of a world where time seems to have stood still.The fire, the furnace, the marbled crucibles, every corner reveals part of the legendary tradition of creating glass for mosaic.

The history of Orsoni is the unique legacy of an art that has handed down mysterious alchemies for four generations.Following the rhythm of the craftsmen, every day quintals of coloured enamels and gold leaf mosaics leave the old factory in Cannaregio to become works of art, private spaces and public settings all over the world.

The mosaic making technique refers to a truly unique philosophy, in which colour plays the leading role.
The fundamental elements of the mosaic are the same as for other vitreous pastes. In the crucible, a humble and patient pot created specifically to withstand over one thousand and three hundred degrees in the furnace, raw materials are melted and mixed to make the opaque white paste which forms the basis of the product.
However, the truly magical moment is the one in which colour is created. If we think that with just a few tens of raw materials we can obtain several thousand different colours, we can fully understand the deepest meaning of the fascination of this material. Naturally, just as other arts, the art of mosaic making has its secrets, its “recipes” which the Orsoni family has jealously guarded and handed down through four generations.
When the paste has been coloured and fired to the desired point, it is removed from the crucible. The incandescent mixture is then worked by a roller to obtain glass “slabs”. These are then placed in a special slow moving furnace in which they are gradually brought to room temperature. The slabs are then ready to be cut.
Nevertheless, the production of Smalti is not the only difficult and intricate job performed in the furnace. The Orsoni furnace is also proud of its production of handcrafted mosaic gold.
Mosaic gold, which through the centuries has almost become the emblem of mosaic, is composed of three layers: a layer of extremely thin 24 carat white or yellow gold, sandwiched between two layers of glass, a very thin surface glass on top to protect the gold leaf, and a layer of glass of about 4 mm thick below.
Moreover, the possibility of obtaining different colour variants, thanks to the tones of the surface glass, further enhances the intriguing luminosity released by the combination of gold and glass. 

The Orsoni name is linked to the realisation of important works, such as the Trocadero and the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur in Paris, Saint Paul's Cathedral in London, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona  and many other masterpieces in Arab and Oriental culture.

The "colour library" next to the furnace preserves an infinite number of almost 3000 of tones and shades that go far beyond imagination.

Being a flexible and versatile material, the mosaic lends itself to representing the most advanced elements of stylistic research for various artists, ranging from the traditional to the more contemporary.

Courses are being held in the historic and prestigious Venetian furnace and the students experience the artisan workshops in all stages, from the production in the furnace until the creation of the mosaic.