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Banfi Glass and Bottle Museum

29 July 2022

Glass production: history, curiosities | Castello Banfi Wine Resort

Banfi Glass and Bottle Museum

When talking about wine, there is no way one can ignore the objects used to contain it, and specifically bottles and glasses. In some cases, even, when talking about a good wine, it is referred to as a “good bottle”, while there is a genuine classification for glasses and goblets, since each wine deserves its own type to bring out its full range of characteristics. 

We have come a long way to get to the production of glass goblets such as the ones we use today. Although glass has been used since ancient times, it was only in Imperial Rome that it was systematically used to make glasses and bottles.

If you want to see some evidence of this lengthy creative process and craftsmanship, there is no better place than the  Bottle and Glass Museum. Located at Castello Banfi Wine Resort, this museum, which is named after G. F. Mariani, contains ancient artefacts and pieces of modern art that show the different stages in glass-making history.

A brief history of glass

Humankind has been able to work glass since the third millennium BCE: in Mesopotamia, glass paste was used for decorative purposes, while from the 7th-6th centuries BCE, the Greek and Phoenician civilisations began to make jars for perfumes and unguents as well as glass jewellery.

As already mentioned, there was a genuine glass-making industry in place during the Roman period, around the first century CE, when artisans began to use glass-blowing techniques (imported from the Middle East) to make items that were more similar to those we use today, such as glasses, bottles, lanterns, and in some rare cases, windows.

Italy’s golden period of glass-making came in the Middle Ages, when glass was used to make the magnificent coloured windows we see today in churches and cathedrals all over Europe, and when the master craftsmen of Murano withdrew to their island to jealously guard the secrets of their glass-making techniques.

Glass-making in stages

What is glass made of? What are the basic substances in this material? Glass is an amorphous solid, which means it has a random crystalline lattice arrangement and it is created through the solidification of a liquid without successive crystallisation process. In the majority of cases, glass paste is made from silicon oxide (SiO2), a material with a very slow crystallisation speed and a relatively high melting point (1800 °C).

Due to the high energy costs of keeping furnaces at this temperature, it is preferable to make glass from other recycled glass, which has a lower melting temperature.

Glass-making in stages

Glass making has different stages. The first stage is the preparation of the materials:  silica sand is sifted and dried (and if necessary, mixed with other chemicals, according to the required finish) while, in the case of recycled glass, it is necessary to separate the secondary substances.

The next stage is melting, which takes place in furnaces at controlled temperatures of around 1600°C. The mix of glass is then cut and placed in moulds. 

The third stage is forming, when the glass takes on its required shape, such as that of a bottle. The vitrified paste is placed in a mould and it adheres to the sides, taking shape thanks to a pressing action.  The glass is then blown to give it its final shape and empty space on the inside.

Bottle and Glass Museum

The ideal place in which to immerse yourself in the history of glass is, as we mentioned, the Bottle and Glass Museum at Castello Banfi Wine Resort.

The collections in this museum are among the world’s richest, because they encompass various centuries of history, starting with the Roman rooms and on to the glass masterpieces of Picasso, passing via the fascinating glass pieces from Venice.

The five rooms have been carefully studied to offer a charming, immersive experience to visitors, not only because they will be in the exceptional location of the stalls and the old mill of a mediaeval fortress, but also because they can follow the evolution of the wine glass in the very area in which the world’s finest wine is made: the Tuscan hillsides, in the area of Montalcino.

Museum artefacts

The Roman collection includes artefacts in vitreous paste from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, jars and containers in blow glass for balms and unguents from the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, and bottles and carafes in blown glass from the 4th and 5th centuries CE. This is one of the most fascinating and extensive collections, brought back to its ancient splendour thanks to restoration work carried out by the Laboratorio del Vetro di San Giovanno Valdarno in Arezzo.

The collection of Venetian glass and glass from Murano has been added to over the last few years with two masterpieces acquired by the Fondazione Banfi: a “reticello” bowl from the 16th century, and a large display glass with enamelled brass elements. 

Lastly, the modern pieces in glass include a stunning “Portatrice” by Pablo Picasso, a unique piece that shows the multifaceted talent of this artist.

H3: Museum Info

The Museum is open all year round, so if you are holidaying in or around Montalcino, you can always come and visit to satisfy your curiosity about the history of glass-making. From 9 March to 12 November, the rooms are open to the public from 10.00 to 19.30, while from 12 November to 9 March, they are open from 10.00 to 18.00.

Tickets are available from Enoteca Banfi at a price of 4 euro and concessions are available.

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