Canes for Millefiori Work

By Jamey Allen


As I have mentioned occassionally, in 1982 I composed a system for classifying canes for millefiori work, based on their structures and designs, in Ornament magazine. Since that's just over twenty years ago (my, time passes when you're having fun....), perhaps some of you would find it interesting to see some of this material here.

The image with this first post presents the classification, and was the primary image for Part I of the article.


The classification divides canes into different groups according to how they are manufactured, and shows a number of typical examples of specimens from these groups. The patterns are circular images that represent a cane as seen in cross section, or what slices of cane look like before they are placed onto a bead (or artifact) and fused together. This process usually distorts the pattern or design to some degree.

The Classification shows fifty-six specimens, beginning with #1 (a plain monochromatic cane), and thereafter showing the different trends in compounding canes as though we began with one cane and multiplied or elaborated it. The black-&-white images are Guide Canes, showing general structural trends. The colored specimens are actual specimens of Venetian canemaking within those types and groups.

The three primary types of compound canes are: Composite, Layered, and Molded. In addition, there are Hybrids of these types. Layered and molded canes often have composite elements incorporated into them. Composite canes are sometimes made from layered or molded elements, or have layers around them. Making composite canes is generally (at Venice) cold-work; whereas layering canes (and molding) are hot-work.

Some techniques are easier than others, or require less skill and time. Some have the advantage of being easily replicable. Some are much more variable than others. This results in canes that are either made in small numbers or great numbers, and that consequently may be considered rare or common. I will discuss various types and groups of specimens I will show over the next few days.

In this detail of the classification chart, we can see the upper left quadrant. All of the canes are sequentually numbered from 1 to 56. The type of manufacture is indicated by the letter associated with their number. "A" indicates simple and monochromatic; "B" indicates layered; "C"indicates composite; and "D" indicates molded. In addition, a lower-case letter indicates that the cane is a hybrid. For instance, "9Cb" is a Composite cane hybridized by having layered elements. "39Bb" is a layered cane hybridized by having the addition of composited layered elements.

The layering of canes is shown viewing 1 to 2 to 3, where we see that the base of the cane pattern is elaboratd by having additional layers of glass added to their structures. There may be two or more layers/colors. The effect of making layered canes is of creating a "bull's eye" effect, that is most apparently an eye when the central unit is black or dark. In the core, in any layer, or on the exterior, layered canes may be elaborated by the addition of other preformed elements, thus becoming hybrid canes.

The compositing of canes is seen by starting with 1, and proceeding down to 8 to 12 to 14. When two to four elements are fused together, the effect results in bi-color, tri-color, or quadruple patterns. When more elements are used, they are generally added around a central element (as at 12). When elaborate patterns are created, the structure of the cane is cellular (like a honeycomb, at 14). Composite canes may be elaborated by the use of layered or molded elements, and by adding layers to their outer structure.

Molded canes are derived from layered canes, but are considered their own seperate type because they were developed late in time, by Venetians, and mark the emergence of this art as a modern practice that is in contrast to the ancient methods of canemaking (since these were not molded). Like layered canes, molded canes may have internal elements composited into their structures and/or on their exteriors. We get to molded canes from 3 down to 45 and 46. The most typical molded patterns at Venice have always been shapes that are called "flowers" and "stars." Other molded or shaped elements may be used occassionally, but these are greatly in the minority.









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