The Story Behind French Spun Glass Miniatures

Sometimes we find in France very nice spun glass accessories, mainly lighting accessories, that are presented as Venetian. And it is true they have common characteristics with glass pieces manufactured in the North of Italy. But listen now to this story...

In the 16th century, Henriette de Clèves, daughter of the Duke of Nevers, marries Louis de Gonzague, Lord of Montferrat, a region in the North of Italy. Louis, attracted by Nevers and the Loire valley, decides to live there and persuades Italian glassworkers of the Montferrat region to exercise their art in the city of Nevers.

These glassmakers brought in the fabrication of lampworked glass figures, animals and decors, using glass or enamel (colored glass) sticks warmed under an oil lamp. These Italian glassmakers protected their fabrication secrets and only transmitted them to other Italian people. At the beginning of 17th century, they acquired the French nationality and also received from the King Henry IV royal privileges that protected their business. At that moment they began to train French craftsmen to their art, creating what we may call a the Spun Glass School of Nevers. From then their knowledge spreads to other cities of the Loire valley like Saumur and Orléans.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, sumptuous dioramas were created by these glassmakers, with enamel figures and animals in bucolic or religious scenes. There are also dioramas with figures of the Comedia del Arte. Most of the dioramas that survived are now in museums, especially in the Nevers Museum. In some of these dioramas we can see spun glass candelabras, candlesticks and other lighting accessories, exactly the same that you may luckily find in specialized French Antique shops.

The French Revolution, at the end of the 18th century, removes the Royal privileges, and this is the end of the production of large and complex diorama. During the 19th century, the glass workers produced smaller pieces, often sold to travelers that stopped over at Nevers or Saumur, when they traveled in diligence between Paris and the south of France. Most of spun glass accessories were probably produced during this period.

René Lambourg was a well known lampworked glass maker in the 19th century. It was a celebrity in his town of Saumur, and he opened a branch in Paris in 1845. This gave the opportunity to the Parisian newspaper for young girls, the « Journal des Demoiselles », in May 1845, to write an article about Lambourg work. René Lambourg died in 1880; he was 100 years old, and was always active in Saumur. He had no successor, and most of the know-how of Nevers spun glass was lost.

Now you know why we find Venetian style spun glass accessories in France. They are not imported from Venice or Lauscha, but have been created by the disciples of the Spun Glass School of Nevers. These very delicate accessories may continue to decorate your miniature rooms, like they did in French diorama. They are also very nice accessories for your Antique Doll houses!

Fabienne Vangenechten
Belle Epoque Dolls
Antiquités - Miniatures - Antiques

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