PORTUGUESE AZULEJOS AND CERAMICS
A CENTURIES OLD LOVE AFFAIR
Ceramic tiles (also called azulejos) are an integral part of Portugal’s identity, from mainland Portugal to its colonies around the world. These iconic decorate tiles feature on walls of churches, monasteries, palaces, park seats, fountains, train stations and estates – many portraying scenes from the history of Portugal.
They date as far back as the 13th century when the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula (now Portugal and Spain). No other country has used these ceramic tiles as extensively and consistently than Portugal. The became art and by the 18th century no other country was producing as much ceramic tiles. For all kinds of reasons and purposes. To this date, they remain a very important part of Portugal’s architecture. Azulejo has its arabic roots, meaning “small polished stone”. These tile design are mostly this classic cobalt blue but also come in a variety of colours too.
AN ORIGIN STORY
Sao Vicente de Fora Lisbon, Portugal © Martin Lehmann/Shutterstock
The use of glazed and decorative ceramic tiles did not originate in Portugal, but stretches back to ancient Assyria and Babylon and shows us that the ancient world was filled with colour. Decorated tiles and bricks have been found on the walls of ancient Assyrian palaces. The Great Gate of Ishtar, which stood at the entrance to Babylon, is perhaps the most famous example of ancient tile art. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 605/604-562 BCE) ordered the gate to be constructed c. 575 BCE, and it features lions, young bulls (aurochs), and dragons (sirrush) against a vibrant cobalt blue glazed background.
In ancient Egypt, Pharoah Djoser (c. 2670 BCE), who was the first king of the Third Dynasty of Egypt, had his funerary chamber in the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara covered with blue faience tiles with yellow lines for papyrus stems.
Lead glazing was known to the Romans who first used the technique in the 1st century BCE. The Greco-Roman world, however, favoured the mosaic technique which was created by setting tesserae — small pieces of stone or glass — into intricate designs on floors and walls in public buildings, private homes, and temples. They also decorated surfaces by painting on wet lime plaster (called the fresco technique) and applying interior or exterior plaster to create relief effects (called stuccowork).
MIDDLE EASTERN FLAIR
In countries where Islamic culture flourished, wall tiles using geometric designs became an important aspect of tile art and religious expression. Islamic potters developed lustre tiles for use in palaces, mosques and holy shrines, which gave these buildings a distinctive iridescent finish.
Perhaps the earliest example of Islamic tile decoration can be seen on the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhra) located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was erected by the Muslim caliph Abd el-Malik in 688-691 CE, but Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566 CE) was responsible for the mosque’s renovation and the replacement of exterior mosaics with shimmering tiles.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey is known as the Blue Mosque because more than 20,000 striking blue and white Iznik tiles cover its interior. Iznik was a Turkish centre of tile and ceramic production for the Ottoman Empire in the late 15th century CE.
You may be wondering why the ancient world seemed to be saturated in blue, and that is because the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli (which means “stone of the sky”) was prized in antiquity for its royal blue hue and was thought to be connected with knowledge, insight, and magical powers.
ISLAMIC & ITALIAN INFLUENCES
The Moors brought Islamic mosaic and tile art to the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century CE and it is here that our story really begins.
Pena Palace Sintra, Portugal © FindUsLost.com
King Manuel I of Portugal (r. 1495-1521 CE) visited Seville and the Alhambra palace in Granada and was dazzled by the Islamic geometric-patterned ceramic tiles he saw. King Manuel was one of the wealthiest monarchs in the Christian world thanks to the Portuguese age of discovery (early 15th – mid 17th century CE). He imported azulejos from Seville and decorated The Arab Room in his palace at Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra). The Spanish Muslim geometric patterns used in this room are called mudejar, and this period of tile decoration is known as the Hispano-Moresque.
The palace at Sintra remained largely intact after the 1755 CE earthquake destroyed most of the city. Should you visit the national tile museum, you should also take a tour of the palace at Sintra (around 25 km or 15 m north of Lisbon).
The highlight of the Museu Nacional Do Azulejo is the 1,300 traditional blue and white panoramic panel called The Great View of Lisbon. Located on the top floor, it is 23 metres (75 ft) in length and was made by the Spanish-born tile painter Gabriel del Barco (c. 1649-1701 CE) in 1700 CE. It is one of the few extant visual records of the cityscape before the devastating earthquake.
Following the Reconquista – when Spanish and Portuguese territories on the Iberian Peninsula were taken back from Muslim control – the Portuguese were free to develop their own style of hand-painted azulejos. Tile painters were no longer bound by Islamic law that forbade the portrayal of human figures and they could now paint animals and humans, historical and cultural events, religious imagery, flowers, fruit, and birds.
By the mid-16th century CE, Italian and Flemish artisans were settling in Lisbon, attracted by the flourishing tile art and the possibilities of working with new techniques. One of these techniques was the Italian majolica, which made it possible to paint directly on the tiles and depict a more complex range of designs such as figurative themes and historical stories. Nossa Senhora da Vida is a superb example of the influence of majolica and Renaissance influence (the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity that took place from the 14th to the 17th centuries CE).
The 1580 CE panel consists of 1,498 azulejos painted in trompe l’oeil (a style of painting that is intended to give a convincing illusion of reality). It is an early and outstanding example of Portuguese religious iconography and includes images of the adoration of the shepherds and John the Evangelist (c. 15 – c. 100 CE). The blue and white squares create illusory depth, while the green, yellow, and blue painted figures and patterns imitate a painted board with a gold gilt frame. The rectangle in the upper lunette indicates that a window was once in the azulejo (it was originally a retable wall in the Church of Santo André in Lisbon).
Igreja do Carmo Porto, Portugal © Maremagnum / Getty Images
The 1st Marquis of Pombal, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, (1699-1782 CE), presided over the reconstruction of Lisbon and architectural ceramic tiles started to follow the so-called Pombalino style. Known as azulejos pombalinos, ceramic tiles moved from the interior of churches and buildings to the exterior – covering public and religious monuments, palaces, stairway walls, houses, restaurants, and gardens. Azulejos pombalinos were also considered an effective and low-cost building solution.
Up to this point, the church and nobility had commissioned decorative ceramics, but we start to see the democratisation of tiles because of their extensive use in urban housing and the rebuilding of the city. To meet demand, the Real Fábrica de Louça tile production factory opened in the Rato district of Lisbon, and 1715 CE saw the last foreign import of ceramic tiles.
The Portuguese overseas expansion starting in the early 14th century CE resulted in a meeting of many cultures, and azulejos reflected a sense of the exotic by including elephants, monkeys, and indigenous peoples from colonies and territories such as Brazil. Indian printed textiles showing Hindu and nature symbols became fashionable between 1650-1680 CE, particularly a composition called aves e ramagens (“birds and branches”).
After the flirtation with ornate flourishes and often macabre themes during the 17th and 18th centuries CE, azulejos designs of the 19th century CE catered to the tastes of the newly emerging bourgeoisie (a social order that was dominated by the so-called middle class). The bourgeoisie wanted azulejos to reflect their social success and status and the nouveau-riche emigrants returning from Brazil brought with them the trend of decorating the facades of their houses with ceramic tiles that kept the interior cool and reduced outside noise. As a result, there was a move away from large panels to smaller and more delicately executed azulejos.
TEXT SOURCE: ANCIENT.EU
FROM PORTUGAL, WITH LOVE
People in Portugal have worked clay since prehistory – it is part of their cultural identity. It goes beyond the iconic cobalt blue tiles. Today, pottery is produced in high quality and exquisite style hand made by factories and individual artists who still handcraft and uphold this tradition with pride and creativity. From Earthenware to decorative pieces, Portugal produces some of the finest quality in the world, both traditional styles and modern twists. Here is the top 10 list of Madeira Lifestyle favourites:
A portuguese brand of ceramics, created by the designer Margarida M. Fernandes. Margarida’s work has been inspired, most of the time, in the kitchen atmosphere and in all that is relatively to this basic need of life – food and cooking. The interest in collect objects from the past, has influenced and enriched her craft production.
Lovers of traditional materials – terracotta, cotton, cane, jute, linen and wool – to create our collection, and collaborate closely with traditional craftspeople and small, family-owned businesses to bring it all to life.
Portuguese studio that creates beautiful handmade ceramics rich with texture and timeless flair.
Portuguese manufacturer with worldwide recognition for creating products that reflect the latest design trends, made to the highest standards of quality and functionality.
Lisbon based studio specializing in handmade ceramics which creates limited pieces and special projects, working in small batches and design functional, unique ceramics.
Viúva Lamego produces hand painted tiles with a vivid shine and deep, rich colours, whose presence is felt profoundly thanks to its unique glaze.
A Vida Portuguesa was born out of the will to create an inventory of the brands that survived the passage of time, to highlight the quality of Portuguese manufacture and to showcase Portugal in a surprising light.
Portuguese designer who creates handmade ceramic pieces with a unique personality.
Producers of contemporary decorative ceramics items of unique added value, inspired by the art and tradition of ceramics manufacture.
Specialists in the areas of restoration and recovery, with a significant stock of Portuguese tiles from the 15th/16th Century to 19th Century.
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