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Throughout history glass has enjoyed the capacity to fascinate, being equally applicable to objects of a practical, artistic or symbolic nature. Glass dating from antiquity shows a great mastery of the techniques to shape, colour and decorate. The invention of the blowpipe revolutionized this nascent industry. In the Middle Ages glass was associated with Gothic architecture to adorn the vast windows with colourful stained glass. In the Renaissance period, Venice and the island of Murano were centres of glassmaking excellence. Their reputation for producing fine, almost transparent cristallo glass was later rivalled by the Manufacture des Glaces founded by Colbert, minister to Louis XIV of France.

Bohemia and England developed methods to make very transparent crystalware. The eighteenth century shone a light on the chemical make-up of glass and paved the way for the many technical advances of the nineteenth century. The innovations were numerous and the nascent glass factories, such as Baccarat and Saint-Gobain, invested heavily. At the end of the nineteenth century, with the rise of mechanized processes and mass-production, artists such as Émile Gallé and René Lalique utilized the recent technical advances to revisit traditional expertise. In the twentieth century and to the present day, artists and designers have continued to explore ways in which to work with industry, sometimes even with the aim of enhancing their independence.