Murano glass and mirrors were universally recognized for their unsurpassed excellence and Venice, having a monopoly, sold them throughout Europe, earning huge sums. Therefore great importance was given to the prevention of industrial and commercial espionage. To protect the art of Murano glass that ran the risk of having its secrets disclosed due to the emigration of skilled labor, the Serenissima adopted the ‘stick and carrot’ system. When the economic lure or the promise of special privileges were not sufficient, exemplary threats or punishments were resorted to.
Attracted by tempting job offers, however, many Murano glassmakers left the country. It was during the ‘500s and’ 600s that the glassmakers’ diaspora assumed the characteristics of a true “brain drain” that could greatly damage the economy of Venice.
In 1658 a large group of glass workers led by the master glassmaker Gian Domenico Battaggia, moved to Pisa to serve Ferdinando de ‘Medici. The ubiquitous Venetian spies were put on the heels of fugitive Murano glassmakers. Their task was not only to inform, but also to blackmail and threaten the glassmakers, forcing them to return home. The assassin hired by the Venetians Bastian de ‘Daniel poisoned the leader of the Pisan glassmakers by sending an unequivocal signal to the defectors who, the antiphon happens, returned to work in Murano.
The glass industry was so strategic and profitable that from 1664 to 1667 it became the trigger for the “War of the Mirrors” between Venice and France.
The intent of the powerful minister of Louis XIV Jean Baptiste Colbert was to lead a small group of Murano masters to move to France with their business. In addition to the greedy prize money, the astute Minister favored the emigration of the wives of the workers, managing to evade the strict surveillance they had been subjected to after their husbands’ flight.
In 1665 the Manufacture Royale des Glaces, managed by Nicolas du Noyer and destined to become the Saint Gobain Manufacture, was created in Paris. Following the instructions of the Murano glassmakers, the first mirror in Venetian fashion was produced in France the following year.
The Venetian counteroffensive was coordinated by Ambassador Giustinian who ordered to kill the master glassmaker Antonio della Rivetta, considered the leader of the group. Failed the attack, to stem the problem, the Venetian counter-moves went on to stir up internal struggles, spreading terror, drawing traces and poisoning. Eventually an adequate sum of money managed to convince the Murano glassmakers to repatriate.
However, the competing French industry was already underway and the “War of the Mirrors” was in fact lost. Colbert’s victory over Venice still prevails and is represented by the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.