Daphne du Maurier, born in London in 1907, the author of many successful novels such as Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, My Cousin Rachel, The Loving Spirit, The Glass Blowers and many others, comes from a family of French emigrants, the Bussons, glassmakers from Altare.  Many Altarese glassmakers moved to France and built glassworks there; one of the most renowned was the one named “Royal Manufacture of Glass and Mirrors”, established in Nevers by Bernardo Perotto and his uncle Castellano during the reign of Louis XIV.  In her novel “The Glass Blowers” du Maurier tells the story of her forefathers, the Bussons (Buzzone), famous glassmakers and engravers who lived in the period of the French Revolution and nowadays have only one descendant living in Altare. While reading this novel we can enjoy the atmosphere of the traditions of the “Università del Vetro”, an ancient guild which practised and promoted the art of glassmaking.  Matteo Buzzone, born at the end of the 16th century, was a glassmaker in Rome and supplier of the Papal States. He cured Pope Urbano VIII of a persistent skin disease and, as a reward, the Pope granted him the sole right on stamp duties on all the measures of capacity in the Papal States.  It is said that one day he came back to Altare to contemplate “his church”, a church for whose construction he had given a considerable sum of money, but when he saw the building he exclaimed “This is not even the sacristy of the church I wanted!” and he rode back to Rome.  Many interesting people from Altare, though often underestimated, distinguished themselves abroad.


Luigi Zecchin wrote an in-depth monography about Bernardo Perotto, glassmaker from Altare.  While speaking about Altarese glassmakers, Zecchin says “the greatest of them all was Bernardo Perotto, who lived in the 17th century - a tireless and clever craftsman whose fame is due to a revolutionary and ingenious technique for working plain glass by casting.”  Perotto distinguished himself in France where, during the reign of Louis XIV, he established the “Royal Manufacture of Glass and Mirrors” (1647) together with his uncle Castellano.  After a 15-years’ activity together, he left his uncle and on 13th July 1662 he obtained two licences for the opening of his own glassworks in Orleans.  In this factory he created and improved glassmaking by casting both plain and wrought glass. In the records of the Royal Academy of Paris we can find this note: ”2nd April 1687. M.Perrot, maitre de la verrerie royale d’Orleans, showed us a new application of his arts, i.e. the casting of crystal and glass into sheets, thus making them hollow like cameos. Any kind of shape can be represented - ornaments, arms, inscriptions, etc. The Academy granted him a certificate.”  For this invention he was given two patents dated 7th December 1668 and 22nd September 1672, later extended over ten more years. However, about two months after the last concession, the right to use Perotto’s discovery was allowed to other glassmakers.  It’s plain that the Minister of Finance of Louis XIV, Colbert, who is considered the founder of French industry, had invited skilled glassmakers from Altare and from Venice in order to do them out of their secrets and to establish a French glass manufacture, which actually happened.  In fact, the Manifacture Royale des Glaces, presided over by Nicolas du Noyer in Normandy, and another furnace run by Richard Lucas de Nehou were born under the protection of Colbert’s son, the marquis of Segnelay.  They both needed licences and funds; Colbert found a diplomatic solution by merging the two glassworks on 23rd September 1667.

The Saint GOBAIN

Thevart’s business had a hard start - production rejects were considerable and the financial backers weren’t satisfied. Costs were lowered by transferring the glassworks to the castle of St.Gobain in Picardy, where the costs of labour, of raw materials and of fuel were lower, and by obtaining tax relief and more favourable licences.  On 1st May 1695 De Bagneux’s company and Thevart’s company were suppressed and the “Royal Manufacture of French Glass”, a concern run by François Plastrier, was established in St.Gobain with a 30-year licence.  Bernardo Perotto was deprived of his licences for glass casting, the technique he had invented, and his tools and products were seized; his protests and claims remained unheard. The only acknowledgement he obtained was a life annuity of 500 lire, later raised to 800, which he enjoyed for a few years, as he died on 10th November 1709.  Not only he hadn’t been allowed to make the most of his invention, but he wasn’t even mentioned in French publications and his invention was ascribed to either Thevart or De Nehou.  Only in 1890, thanks to Havard, glassmaking by casting was finally attributed to “Bernard Perrot directeur de la Verrerie d’Orleans”.  St.Gobain, which is now a very big European company, started its business by stealing Perotto’s idea.  In his interesting book, which has been published recently, Zecchin tells the story of the company and shows the picture of a medallion portraying Louis XIV made by Perotto; on page 28 the author speaks about the interdiction - a few words to remind of a distinguished glassmaker from Altare who became French and greatly contributed to the improvement of the art of glass in France.  Many times Altarese glassmakers have been shortly mentioned without considering that they belong to a millenary tradition.  Only Luigi Zecchin, a keen lover of the art of glass, dedicated some pages to the glassmakers from Altare, particularly to Perotto, whose work he described in an accurate monography for which we gratefully thank him.

Updated October 10, 2004