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  • Bernadette Nelson,
  • M. Leticia Sánchez Hernández,
  • Bruce Tattersall,
  • Hans van Lemmen
  •  and Cleota Reed

Thin slab of fired clay used for covering roofs, floors, walls, stoves and chimney-pieces; they can be either square, rectangular, hexagonal, cruciform or star-shaped, so that they can be fitted together to form a mosaic or tile-panel. The most commonly used material for decorative tiles is glazed earthenware.

I. Types.

  • Bernadette Nelson

1. Unglazed.

These tiles are distinguished from glazed tiles by the lack of a glaze on their surface. Their colour depends on the colour of the clay used. Most clays when fired become either red or yellow because of the minerals or oxides they contain, but some white clays remain white during firing or can be stained with oxides to achieve a certain colour. The strength of an unglazed tile depends on the temperature to which it has been fired and the thickness and quality of the body. Unglazed tiles that have been fired up to 1100–1150°C are known as ‘earthenware tiles’ and are highly porous. When unglazed tiles are fired to a temperature of 1350–1400°C, they are known as ‘vitreous tiles’ and are hard and dense with a low porosity. Very hard, unglazed vitreous tiles are made by the dust-pressing process, in which dust clay with a low moisture content is compacted in a tile press and fired to a high temperature, which results in a dense, hard, fine-grained body, impervious to water. They make good floor-tiles and can be made thinner than earthenware tiles without losing any of their strength and durability. Unglazed tiles can be decorated by indenting or embossing the surface with patterns or figurative scenes, by painting with coloured slips or by the sgraffito technique, in which a layer of different-coloured clay is laid over the tile surface and cut or scored through to reveal the contrasting colour of the clay body beneath. It is also possible to inlay the tile body with different coloured clays (see §I, 2, (iii) below).

2. Glazed.

The surface of a glazed tile has a thin glaze on a clay body fired on to it in the kiln; this makes the surface of the tile impervious to water and can also be used as a form of decoration. There are many different kinds of glazes and techniques for applying them. Transparent and coloured lead glazes are among the most common and have been used in Europe since the Middle Ages, although at the beginning of the 20th century leadless glazes began to be used to reduce the high level of lead-poisoning in the ceramics industry.

Many decoration techniques have been developed for glazed tiles. In the case of painted tiles, colours are applied under, in or over the glaze. Underglaze decoration consists of painting on the unglazed, biscuit-fired tile. A coating of transparent glaze is then applied both to protect the decoration and to make the tile surface more hygienic and functional. In the case of in-glaze decoration, the design is painted on to the unfired glaze and sinks into it during the second firing when both glaze and decoration are fixed to the tile. This is a particular feature of maiolica, faience and delftware (see §I, 2, (ii) below). The overglaze technique uses enamel colours, which are painted on to the fired, glazed surface of the tile and are then fixed in a muffle (enclosed) kiln at a low temperature (700–900°C). Printed decoration has been used on tiles from the mid-18th century and can be applied on or under the glaze using transfer paper.

Glaze can also be used on a tile surface that has been indented or embossed by hand or with the aid of wooden, metal or plaster moulds when the clay is still soft. Transparent or coloured glazes are applied over the surface creating effects of light and dark as the glaze settles on either sunken or raised areas. In Spain two techniques were developed to decorate the whole tile surface with a number of differently coloured glazes in close proximity to each other (see §I, 2, (i) below). Salt-glazed tiles can only be produced in such kilns fuelled by real fires as bottle kilns. Salt is thrown into the kiln when a temperature of 1100–1200°C has been reached. The salt volatilizes, and the vapours react with the clay to form a sodium aluminosilicate glaze, which is strong and acid resistant. Salt glaze is the only glazing process that takes place in the kiln during firing.

(i) Cuerda seca and cuenca [Sp.: ‘dry cord’; ‘hollow’].

If a number of differently coloured glazes are used close together on a flat tile, they tend to ‘run’ during firing. In Spain, where the tradition of Islamic pottery had been influential since the Moorish occupation, the cuerda seca technique provided an effective solution to this problem. The technique consists of drawing lines using a mixture of dark ceramic pigments and a greasy substance that keeps the water-based coloured glazes separate from each other. The grease burns away during firing and leaves a thin, sunken, unglazed line between the slightly raised glazed surfaces. This technique was much used in Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries.

A modified form of the cuerda seca technique consists of imprinting a design in the soft clay with a mould. When the tile has been fired once, the incised lines of the design are filled with the greasy substance. This is a particularly labour-saving device as cuerda seca tiles have complex geometrical Moorish patterns that would be difficult to draw free-hand. A further simplification of this is known as the cuenca technique: moulds of individual parts of the design are sunk into the clay leaving a thin, raised line around each one. The hollows are then filled with coloured glazes. Both cuerda seca and cuenca tiles need to be stacked horizontally for firing to prevent the glazes from running out of their delineated areas.

(ii) Tin glaze.

Technically, tin glaze is a lead glaze to which tin oxide has been added, making the glaze opaque white and thus an ideal ground for painting. The technique of tin glaze was introduced into southern Europe by Islamic potters and became widely used on tiles from the 15th century. Its three main forms are maiolica, faience and delftware. The name ‘maiolica’ comes from ‘Majorca’, the island between Spain and Italy that was a major trading centre for tin-glazed pottery, while ‘faience’ may be derived from the town of Faenza in northern Italy or Fayence in France, where much tin-glazed ware was produced. The term ‘delftware’ is likewise derived from the Dutch town of Delft where tin-glazed pottery was made during the 17th and 18th centuries. The technique was also used in such other European countries as Spain, Portugal, France, Britain and Germany. There was considerable interaction between tin-glaze tilemakers and decorators and a wide dissemination of knowledge during the 16th and 17th centuries, when Italian maiolica painters began to work in southern Spain and Flanders, while Dutch potters set up businesses in Portugal and England. Although many inexpensive plain, white tin-glazed tiles were made, they were also often decorated to add colour, pattern and pictorial designs to the interior and exterior of buildings. Tin-glazed tiles were decorated with small individual designs or with larger motifs as tile-panels. Such high-temperature colours as orange, green, purple and blue were painted on the unfired, white tin glaze as inglaze decoration. Such overglaze enamels as red, pink or delicate green were added to extend the range of colours.

(iii) Encaustic.

In relation to tiles, encaustic (Gr.: ‘burnt in’) essentially means inlaying clay of one colour with clay of a contrasting colour; this technique probably spread to England from France at the beginning of the 13th century. Encaustic tiles were usually made from red-firing clay, and while the tile was still soft, a design was pressed into it with the aid of a wooden stamp. The indentations were then filled with white clay. When finished, the inlaid white design would clearly stand out against the red ground. The medieval practice was to dip the unfired tile in a transparent lead glaze, so that the firing of the tile body, the inlaid pattern and the glaze all took place at the same time. The glaze gave the white clay a slightly yellow tinge and the red ground a deeper red-brown tint. Encaustic tiles were extensively used in the Middle Ages to pave cathedral and church floors and are characterized by such designs as heraldic emblems, knights on horseback (see fig.), lions and such stylized floral patterns as the fleur-de-lis.

Lead-glazed encaustic tiles depicting Richard and Saladin, earthenware, 171×104 mm, from Chertsey Abbey, Surrey, c.1250–60 (London, British Museum); photo © The British Museum For more information:

View large

With the dissolution of the monasteries (1536–40), the encaustic technique fell into disuse, but was revived again during the mid-19th century with the building of Gothic-Revival churches by such English architects as A. W. N. Pugin and such French architects as Viollet-le-Duc. Encaustic tiles were used for the restoration of medieval cathedrals and churches. Such tile manufacturers as Minton in Stoke-on-Trent and Maw & Co. in Broseley, Salop, made thousands of encaustic tiles to satisfy the burgeoning demand from 1860 until the end of the century. The tiles were also used for public and domestic buildings, and to meet the needs of taste and fashion, some were produced in an unglazed form.


  • E. A. Barber: Spanish Maiolica (New York, 1915)
  • A. Lane: Guide to the Collection of Tiles (London, 1939), pp. 57–65
  • A. Berendsen: Tiles: A General History (London, 1967)
  • R. J. Charleston, ed.: World Ceramics (London, 1968/R 1990), pp. 146–76
  • E. Eames: Medieval Tiles: A Handbook (London, 1968)
  • B. C. Southwell: Making and Decorating Pottery Tiles (London, 1972), pp. 64–82
  • A. Caiger-Smith: Tin-glaze Pottery (London, 1973), pp. 127–40
  • J. Wight: Medieval Floor Tiles (London, 1975)
  • D. S. Skinner and H. van Lemmen, eds: Minton Tiles, 1835–1935 (Stoke-on-Trent, 1984)
  • G. K. Beaulah: Church Tiles of the 19th Century (Aylesbury, 1987)
  • N. Riley: Tile Art (London, 1987)
  • R. Puertas Tricas: La cerámica islámica de cuerda seca en la Alcazaba de Málaga (Málaga, 1989)
  • V. Porter: Islamic Tiles (London, 1995)
  • M. Barry: Colour and Symbolism in Islamic Architecture: Eight Centuries of the Tile-maker’s Art (London, 1996)
  • W. Denny: Gardens of Paradise: 16th Century Turkish Ceramic Tile Decoration ([Istanbul], 1998)
  • T. Herbert and K. Huggins: The Decorative Tile: In Architecture and Interiors (London, 2000)
  • E. de Balanda and A. Uribe Echeverria: Les Métamorphoses de l’azur: L’Art de l’azulejo dans le monde latin (Paris, 2/2002)
  • A. Ben Amara and others: ‘Recherche d’indices sur les techniques de fabrication de zelliges du XIVe siècle (Chellah, Maroc)’, Revue d’archéométrie, 27 (2003), pp. 103–13
  • G. Lang and P. J. Atterbury: 1000 Tiles: Ten Centuries of Decorative Ceramics (San Francisco, 2004)
  • T. De Lillo, A. Monte and G. Quarta: ‘Storia e tecniche di produzione di mattonelle policrome in pasta cementizia’, Pavimentazioni storiche: Uso e conservazione, eds G. Biscontin and G. Driussi (Marghera, 2006), pp. 423–4, pp.432

II. History and uses.

Tiles are among the most varied and widely found ceramic products; they have been produced in Europe on a large scale since the 13th century and many countries have made various contributions to their technical development and architectural applications. Many examples have survived throughout Europe and show how they have been used both functionally and decoratively. From the 13th to the 16th century they were for the greater part used for floors, but since the 16th century wall tiles have also played an important role. They can add colour and decoration to the façades of buildings, while inside they have been used on floors, stoves, in fireplaces, kitchens, bathrooms and dairies. Well-made tiles that have been properly fixed are permanent features of many buildings throughout Europe. For a discussion of non-European tiles see Central Asia, §I, 2, (ii); Indian subcontinent, §VII, 5(ii); and Islamic art, §II, 9(ii)).

1. Great Britain and Ireland.

  • Bernadette Nelson

Tiles were produced in quantity from the 13th century. Between the 13th century and the early 16th they were mainly of three kinds: small, plain geometrical pieces often coated with a white slip and lead glaze; inlaid tiles with floral, geometrical and figurative designs; and lead-glazed tiles with line-impressed and relief patterns. Their main use was on floors in abbey churches and cathedrals as well as royal palaces; examples can be seen in situ in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey, London, at Cleeve Abbey, Somerset, and in the choirs of Byland Abbey (see fig.) and Rievaulx Abbey, both N. Yorks. Medieval tile kilns have been found in England, Scotland and Wales; the tiles were often produced at kiln sites near the abbeys and distributed to surrounding areas. Tiles were also used in Ireland in the Middle Ages, for example at Mellifont Abbey, Co. Louth, and some kilns have been found there to prove local production. At the end of the 1530s, with the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, most medieval tile production came to an end. Italian potters who emigrated to Antwerp at the beginning of the 16th century introduced tin-glazed maiolica floor-tiles to northern Europe. It is very likely that the maiolica floor-tiles with painted floral and figurative designs at the chapel at The Vyne, Sherborne St John (nr Basingstoke, Hants), were made in Antwerp. The art of making tin-glazed tiles was brought to England by such Flemish and Dutch potters as Jasper Andries and Jacob Jansen, who had moved from the Low Countries to Norwich by 1567. The potteries in London that made delftware during the 17th century occasionally produced tiles. It seems probable that these were made by Dutch potters who had settled there; Jan Ariens van Hamme, for example, was granted permission in 1676 to make delftware pottery and tiles.

The English delftware tile industry did not develop until the 18th century. The main centres of production were London, Bristol and Liverpool, and some tiles were also produced in Scotland at the Delftfield Pottery in Glasgow. Until 1750, English delftware tilemakers copied Dutch patterns and designs, particularly biblical scenes, landscapes and vases with flowers. After 1750 English tiles became less dependent on Dutch designs, as can be seen particularly in the tile borders, which began to show greater originality. In 1756 John Sadler (1720–89) and Guy Green (1729–1803) in Liverpool experimented with transfer-printing on white glazed delftware tiles. The novelty of this technique lay in transferring an image from an engraved copper plate to a tile, using enamel colours that were fixed during a low-temperature firing. With the development of creamware and stoneware production in Staffordshire in the late 18th century, most delftware potteries had closed down or turned to the production of the new pottery by 1800.

In the 1830s and 1840s there was a demand for medieval-style encaustic floor-tiles for use in refurbished medieval churches and cathedrals, as well as in newly built Gothic Revival churches and such buildings as the New Palace of Westminster, London. The greatest producer of Victorian tiles was Herbert Minton, who in 1835 bought a share in the patent of Samuel Wright of Shelton for encaustic tiles (see fig.) and in 1840 another covering clay-dust pressing, developed by Richard Prosser. The latter method laid the foundation for mass production, which is the identifying feature of much Victorian tile manufacture. After 1850 many new firms, such as Sherwin & Cotton of Hanley, Staffs, were established to satisfy the burgeoning demand for tiles for use in houses and public buildings. Apart from Minton, such firms as Maw & Co., Godwin, Doulton and Burmantofts produced millions of tiles for use on such varied surfaces as floors and walls and in cast-iron fire-grates and on household furniture. After World War I there was a sharp decline in the use of decorative tiles, but by the 1980s there was a revived interest in both Victorian and contemporary decorative tiles.


  • W. J. Furnival: Leadless Decorative Tiles, Faience and Mosaic (Stone, Staffs, 1904)
  • J. Barnard: Victorian Ceramic Tiles (London, 1972)
  • A. Ray: English Delftware Tiles (London, 1973)
  • D. Hamilton: Architectural Ceramics (London, 1978)
  • H. van Lemmen: Tiles: A Collector’s Guide (London, 1979/R 1990)
  • T. Lockett: Collecting Victorian Tiles (Woodbridge, 1979)
  • J. Austwick and B. Austwick: The Decorated Tile: An Illustrated History of English Tile-making and Design (London, 1980)
  • H. van Lemmen: Victorian Tiles (Aylesbury, 1981)
  • E. Eames and T. Fanning: Irish Medieval Tiles (Dublin, 1988)
  • J. Horne: English Tin-glazed Tiles (London, 1989)
  • E. Eames: English Tilers (London, 1992)
  • H. van Lemmen: Tiles in Architecture (London, 1993)
  • L. Pearson: Tile Gazetteer: A Guide to British Tile and Architectural Ceramics Locations ([Shepton Beauchamp], 2005)

2. The Netherlands.

  • Bernadette Nelson

From the 13th century until the 16th, the Dutch made plain, lead-glazed earthenware floor-tiles as well as inlaid tiles. Excavations have shown that there was a particularly active tile industry in Utrecht during the 14th century. At the beginning of the 16th century such Italian potters as Guido Andries, skilled in the production of tin-glazed pottery, began to settle in Antwerp; the fashion in tiles thus began to veer towards the use of colourful painted maiolica, which eventually supplanted the medieval two-colour tiles. An exception to this is the inlaid Flemish hearth tile, which continued to be produced well into the 19th century, primarily for use in Flemish farmhouses. During the Revolt of the Netherlands (1555–79) Antwerp was at the centre of the hostilities and was sacked a number of times. Numerous tradesmen, including descendants of Italian potters, left the city for the relative safety of Holland. Such potters as Joris Andries, who settled in Middelburg, Zeeland, in 1564, and Adriaan Bogaerd, who went to Haarlem in 1565, introduced the maiolica technique to Dutch potters, and soon tin-glazed pottery and tiles were produced in such places as Haarlem, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

Despite their attractive visual qualities, tin-glazed floor-tiles are not suitable for walking on, as the painted decoration wears quickly. The Dutch instituted an important change in the function of tiles at the end of the 16th century when they began to use them on walls rather than on the floor. Dutch brick-built houses often stood with their foundations in water, and lack of proper insulation caused problems with damp. Tin-glazed tiles were therefore used as wall-cladding in cellars, as wall-skirtings and in kitchens and fireplaces. They kept out damp, their glazed surfaces were easily cleaned, and their decorative patterns introduced colour and design to interiors. The production and marketing of Dutch tiles expanded enormously during the first half of the 17th century. At that time the Netherlands had freed itself from Spanish domination and began to emerge as an important trading nation through its ports, bringing considerable prosperity. The wealth created was more evenly distributed among the Dutch population than in other European countries, and there emerged a large and broadly based middle class that could afford such things as tiles for their homes. Pictures by genre painters demonstrate how Dutch tiles were used in 17th-century interiors; for example, Pieter de Hooch’s A Mother’s Duty (Amsterdam, Rijksmus.) shows tiles used as wall-cladding, and Johannes Vermeer’s Young Woman at a Virginal (London, N.G.) shows them used as skirting. Tile manufacture kept pace with demand, and in addition to Haarlem, Rotterdam and Amsterdam tiles were also produced in Utrecht, Delft and Gouda. In Friesland, Harlingen and Makkum became important centres of production.

Dutch tiles produced at the end of the 16th century were not very different in style from the Antwerp maiolica floor-tiles, but at the beginning of the 17th century tilemakers extended their design repertory to include animals, pots with flowers and grapes and pomegranates. These motifs are usually confined to a single tile, placed within a diamond-shaped or circular border. The corners of each tile were filled with stylized foliate motifs, executed in the ‘reserving technique’ where the background of the motif is painted dark blue, leaving the design white. When such tiles are put together, the corner motifs become the prominent design elements so characteristic of early 17th-century Dutch tiles. The popularity of blue-and-white porcelain imported by the Dutch East India Company had an adverse effect on the Dutch pottery industry, and to maintain their hold on the market manufacturers began to imitate Chinese porcelain. Although they could not make porcelain, by changing to a blue-and-white colour scheme, using cobalt oxide and by copying Chinese patterns they approximated the Chinese product. Around 1620, tiles were made with Chinese patterns and corner motifs, and although the Chinese influence did not last long, blue and white remained the dominant colour scheme and the one with which Dutch tiles are normally associated. Motifs drawn from scenes of daily life, which developed alongside the Chinese influence, were more persistent in Dutch tile design. Pictures of men and women in national costume, portraits, soldiers, trades and occupations, and tulips were used together with a great variety of corner motifs. By the mid-17th century the range of subject-matter was extended still further with sea creatures, cupids and soldiers on horseback, while in the late 17th century landscapes, children’s games and biblical scenes appeared. Engravings, such as those of soldiers by Jacques de Gheyn II and those of biblical scenes by Pieter Schut (1618/19–after 1660), were frequently copied on to tiles. In Rotterdam Cornelis Boumeester (1652–1733) specialized in large harbour scenes, seascapes and sea battles.

Although most Dutch tiles were made outside Delft, the tiles made there were of a high quality. Mary II commissioned large blue-and-white tiles (1694), designed by Daniel Marot I and made and decorated by the Delft pottery Grieksche A for the dairy at Hampton Court Palace, near London, when William III was both Prince of Orange and King of England. In the late 17th century and the early 18th, several Dutch potteries received prestigious commissions from abroad, especially for flower-vase panels. These extravagant designs, executed in colour rather than just blue-and-white, were used in the Château de Rambouillet (1715–30), near Paris, and the Amalienburg hunting-lodge (1734–9) in the park of the Schloss Nymphenburg, near Munich.

Although these sumptuous products and commissions helped to spread the fame of Dutch tiles abroad, the home market had changed by the end of the 17th century. The demand in large cities had declined, due partly to changes in fireplace design, whereas in rural areas during the 18th century prosperous farmers installed large fireplaces containing hundreds of tiles or sometimes lined whole rooms with tiles. Depictions of landscape and biblical scenes were particularly popular, but there was also an increased use of purely decorative patterns, not only painted in blue but also in purple. The influence of French decorative design, dominant in Europe throughout the 18th century, left its mark on Dutch tiles with Rococo scrolls and elaborate Louis XIV-style borders. By the late 18th century tiles were produced in only a few places, of which Rotterdam, Makkum and Harlingen were the main centres. The spreading fashion for wallpaper, the rise and export of Staffordshire pottery and the Napoleonic conquest of the Netherlands were all detrimental to the tile industry. Many factories were forced to close, and only a few survived into the 19th century.

In the 19th century the tile industry diminished further. In Rotterdam the tile factory De Bloempot, the only survivor of a once flourishing tile industry, remained open until the mid-19th century. In Friesland, Tichelaar in Makkum and Tjallingii and Van Hulst in Harlingen kept in production by supplying rural areas in the north of the Netherlands and by exporting tiles to northern Germany and Denmark, where there was still a demand for tiles in farmhouses. After 1850 there was a small revival of tile production, particularly in Utrecht, where two new factories, Ravesteyn (1845) and Schillemans (1856), were set up. They supplied the rural areas around Utrecht and at the end of the 19th century exported tiles to Britain, where there was a fashion for handmade and hand-painted tiles. Dutch tiles were used by Morris & Co. and by such architects as R. Norman Shaw. Between 1900 and 1930 the demand for Dutch tiles declined sharply. Van Hulst and Tjallingii went into liquidation, and only Ravesteyn and Tichelaar managed to remain in production into the late 20th century.


  • B. Rackham: Early Netherlands Maiolica, with Special Reference to the Tiles at The Vyne in Hampshire (London, 1926)
  • E. M. Vis and C. de Geus: Altholländische Fliesen (Amsterdam, 1926/R 1978)
  • B. Rackham: Dutch Tiles: The Van Den Bergh Gift (London, 1931)
  • D. Korf: Dutch Tiles (London, 1963)
  • C. H. De Jonge: Dutch Tiles (London, 1971)
  • J. Pluis: Dieren op tegels (Lochem, 1974)
  • J. Pluis: Kinderspelen op tegels (Assen, 1979)
  • H. van Lemmen: ‘Nineteenth Century Dutch Tiles’, Journal: Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society, 1 (1982), pp. 1–7
  • Dutch Tiles in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (exh. cat., Philadelphia, PA, Mus. A., 1984)
  • H. van Lemmen: Delftware Tiles (Aylesbury, 1986)
  • Traditional Dutch Tile Designs (Amsterdam, 2001)
  • Stil verzameld: Tegels uit de collectie Manschot-van der Meij (exh. cat. by A. J. Gierveld, J. A. Kammermans and G. de Ree, Otterlo, Tegelmus., 2004)

3. Portugal.

  • Bernadette Nelson
(i) 1300–1600.

Apart from the Roman tile remains and mosaics in Condeixa-a-Velha, near Coimbra, the earliest evidence of tile manufacture in Portugal is provided by a 12th-century documentary source from Coimbra, in which reference is made to tile factories. The earliest remains of medieval tiles in situ, of northern European tradition, are the coloured-clay pavings in the church of the Cistercian abbey at Alcobaça dating from the 1300s and in the castle at Leiria. The 15th-century tile-mosaic compositions in the Palácio Nacional, Sintra, are in the Moorish tradition and use geometric patterns on both the floors and walls. It is uncertain whether the paving in the chapel (c. 1470) in particular was imported from Andalusia or made by local craftsmen. In the mid-15th century tiles were imported from the Spanish Levante: these were generally integrated in pavings in the traditional Valencian manner. Until at least the mid-16th century the Portuguese relied on foreign imports. From Spain they adopted the term azulejo when referring to the tin-glazed ceramic tile.

From c. 1479, the date of the earliest document to refer to this trade, large quantities of the square cuerda seca tile (see §I, 2, (i) above) and, in particular, the slightly later cuenca or arista tile were exported from Seville to Portugal and also Madeira and the Azores. The Livro truncado de receita e despeca de André Gonsalves de 1508, for example, refers to tiles of all kinds destined for the Palácio Nacional in Sintra. In this palace, in addition to the tile-mosaics and the cuerda seca and cuenca tiles, which include the famous commissioned cuenca tiles representing the armillary sphere of Manuel I, there is a large quantity of rare Sevillian tiles in high relief depicting grapes and vine leaves, and a few tiles executed in sgraffito. There are also plain tin-glazed tiles (white and green or blue) placed on the walls obliquely in chequer-like patterns (azulejos de xadrez). Apart from in Sintra, the best collections of imported Sevillian tiles are preserved in Vila Nogueira de Azeitão (near Setúbal), Beja, Coimbra, Évora and Setúbal. It is only in the Convento da Conceição in Beja that the tiles are arranged on the walls in a uniform manner in keeping with the Moorish tradition. The Portuguese penchant for variety of pattern is more evident in the Palácio Nacional, Sintra, the Quinta da Bacalhôa, near Setúbal, and the Sé Velha (Old Cathedral; c. 1162) in Coimbra, where fanciful arrangements of cuerda seca and cuenca tiles on the walls of the nave (those covering the pillars were removed in 1902) complement the architectonic contours.

Portugal continued to import ceramic tiles from Spain and on a smaller scale from Antwerp and from Italy until well into the 16th century. This factor, combined with the arrival in Portugal of potters from these countries, contributed to the spread of maiolica-painting techniques in Portugal from about the mid-16th century. The earliest tin-glazed pictorial tile-panels found in Portugal were executed by the Italian Francisco Niculoso (‘Pisano’; d 1529), who settled c. 1498 in the Triana district of Seville; these are a signed panel of the Visitation (c. 1504; Amsterdam, Rijksmus.) and one attributed to Niculoso of the Annunciation (c. 1516; Évora, Mus. Évora). In the Paço Ducal, Vila Viçosa, there are the two panels (1558) made by Jan Bogaerts (fl 1552–71) in Antwerp, and rare tile-panels clearly made to order in Italy and attributed to the workshop of Orazio Fontana (see Fontana family) in Urbino are in the Quinta das Torres, Vila Fresca da Azeitão.

Such documents as the Livro do Lançamento (1565) and Manuel Severim de Faria’s Notícias de Portugal (1665) refer to the arrival of Flemish and Spanish potters in Portugal in about the mid-16th century. This had important repercussions on the national ceramic industry, and a type of Hispano-Flemish Mannerist style then developed. It is thought that Lisbon became the main centre of production (see Lisbon, §2). Characteristic are the mythological and allegorical panels in the Quinta da Bacalhôa and the two hunting panels of probable Portuguese production from the Quinta das Torres (Lisbon, Mus. Azulejo), which are contemporary with the Fontana panels. The panel depicting Susanna and the Elders (1565) in the Quinta da Bacalhôa has received various attributions, including Marçal de Matos, de family. The first dated Portuguese tile composition is the large panel decoration of 1584 in the church of São Roque, Lisbon, signed by Francisco de Matos, de family. Besides a polychrome figurative central medallion, it includes a sumptuous display of cornucopia, ferronerie and other Mannerist motifs. Other tiles in São Roque, dated 1596 and depicting grotesques, were probably imported from Spain. They are seen in conjunction with an array of trompe l’oeil tiles resembling diamonds (ponta de diamante) dating from the 1590s. Similar tiles, based on geometric themes taken from architecture, are also found in the sacristy of the Casa Pia de Évora (1599).

(ii) After 1600.

By 1610 only nationally produced tiles were used in Portugal, and these took on a definite and individual character. The Portuguese now favoured a more economical style of decoration characterized by both abstract geometric patterns, a trend that can be traced back to the chequer-pattern arrangements of plain tiles in the 16th century, and patterns based on textile designs, which matched the gilded woodwork then in fashion.

In the late 16th century narrow border tiles (usually blue) and small complementary square ones were introduced to frame plain white tiles placed diagonally. This type of decoration, known as enxaquetado (‘checkered’) or caixilho (‘frame’), was predominantly used to line the naves and chancels of churches and chapels (e.g. at the church of Marvila, Santarém; 1617 and 1620). About 1600, enxaquetado rico (‘ornamental polychrome’) tiles replaced plain tiles in this type of composition, sometimes resulting in highly complex frameworks, the most ambitious occurring in the church of Marvila, Santarém (1635–7; see fig.). This combination of ornament and diagonal rhythms was a constant feature of tilework until c. 1670. The positioning of the tiles obliquely was gradually abandoned in favour of placing patterned polychrome tiles in regular horizontal positions. A rhythmic vitality was retained in the overall effect through the interlacing of the motifs, of which many were derived from Mannerist schemes or featured floral designs based on roses or camelias. These compositions, known as tapete (‘carpet’) or laçaria e rosas (‘garlands and roses’), are the most characteristic expression of Portuguese tile production in the 17th century (e.g. church of Marvila, Santarém; see fig.). Elaborate friezes and borders were used to frame these patterns, which were also punctuated occasionally by small, devotional and figurative panels.

Distinct in style from the patterned tapete compositions were the panels designed to decorate the fronts of stone altars. The fashion of imitating the appearance of altar-cloths was instigated and made compulsory in Spain in the early 16th century. Several antependiums imported from Talavera de la Reina are preserved in Portugal (e.g. at N. S. da Graça, Lisbon, c. 1600). From c. 1650 to c. 1680 the Portuguese produced original designs, which incorporate elements inspired by printed textiles imported from India. Known as aves e ramagens (‘birds and branches’), these generally feature a large variety of birds, flora and fauna, and symbols with Hindu connotations. A medallion displaying religious emblems or heraldic inscriptions, and in particular the Portuguese national emblem, was frequently included in the centre of the panel.

The taste for abstract ornament and repeated patterns fell out of fashion when, in the second half of the 17th century, the Portuguese began to import blue-and-white tiles from the Netherlands for the decoration of palaces and churches (e.g. Madre de Deus, Lisbon). Two types were prominent: large panels depicting historical scenes, which were specifically produced for the Portuguese market; and individual tiles with single motifs, which were usually figurative or floral, or depicted small landscapes. This trade gave a new impetus to style and technique in Portuguese tile manufacture, which had begun to fall into decline. With the arrival of Gabriel del Barco y Minusca from Spain in 1669 a renewal of tilemaking took place in Portugal. No doubt influenced by the Dutch imports, his large blue-and-white figurative panels had an unprecedented dramatic expression which strongly influenced national tile production. Tile manufacture was now no longer simply entrusted to artisans but became almost exclusively the domain of artists who had a thorough studio training in drawing, painting and rules of perspective.

The most prominent master potters of this period were António Pereira and Manuel dos Santos, both of whom reflected the pronounced graphic quality of the Dutch; Antonio de Oliveira Bernardes, his son Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes (see Bernardes family, §1) and their workshop, which, with its pictorial and sculptural treatment of colour and volume, may be regarded as representative of figurative tilework in Portugal (e.g. tile-paintings, 1711; church of Lóios; for illustration see Bernardes family, §1); and the Master PMP (fl c. 1717–30) who was responsible for introducing a taste for the fête galante and for garden and genre scenes to Portuguese tile-painting. With Master PMP and his principal collaborators, Teotónio dos Santos and Valentim de Almeida, the most exuberant era of Portuguese tile production was reached, culminating in the works of Bartolomeu Antunes and his pupil and son-in-law Nicolau de Freitas (c. 1703–65). Baroque theatrical elements abounded, particularly in the trompe l’oeil architectural framing of the panels.

Tile-panels were used to cover walls in such well-defined areas as the sections between doors and windows, dados or footpanels, including those on staircases, and the vaulted ceilings of churches, in imitation of the painted wooden ceilings of the time. The number of panel spaces available influenced the choice of theme or narrative. With the exception of António de Oliveira Bernardes, potters rarely created their own images but instead relied on printed material for inspiration; biblical scenes were particularly popular.

In the 1740s there was a change from the monumental and sometimes roughly executed narrative panel to smaller panels painted in a finer, more delicate manner. Prime examples are the Rococo-style panels depicting genre and pastoral scenes copied from Watteau, lining the canal basin in the gardens of Queluz Palace (c. 1755). During the reconstruction of Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755, tiles acquired a more utilitarian role, particularly when used for the decoration of palaces and gardens. Tiles became more stereotyped in design through mass production and were dominated by polychrome shell motifs, serving as a gentle counterpoint to the somewhat severe Pombaline style of architecture then in vogue (examples at Oeiras, Quinta Pombal; Lisbon, ‘Quinta dos Azulejos’, Paço do Lumiar). The Real Fábrica do Rato, founded in Lisbon in 1767, played an important role in tile production particularly when it was under the leadership of Sebastião Inácio de Almeida and with the contracting of the painter Francisco de Paula e Oliveira (fl 1774–1824). Another important painter in this period was Francisco Jorge da Costa (fl 1765–87). Characteristic tiles produced in Lisbon factories at this time were the so-called ‘Rato’ tiles known as grinaldas; these consisted of the repetition of simply patterned tiles similar in character to the faience produced in Real Fábrica da Bica do Sapato in Lisbon (e.g. Lisbon, Basílica da Estrela).

Owing to the social and economic changes that took place in Portugal in the first half of the 19th century, there was a temporary stagnation in the arts, particularly in the manufacture of the decorative tile. Immigrant Brazilians eventually took the lead, however, and encouraged the Portuguese to adopt their fashion of covering the façades of buildings (especially domestic houses) with tiles. A resurgence of activity took place in Oporto (see Oporto, §2) due to the stimulus of Brazilians who had acquired and founded factories there. The production of the majority of ceramic wares and tiles from these factories was industrialized, the technique developing initially in the factory of Carvalhinho (founded 1840) with the introduction from Britain of copper engraving in 1853. The most characteristic production of mid-19th-century Oporto factories consisted of high-relief tiles in one or two colours. In Lisbon tiles were most commonly produced by the transfer-printed method, both in polychrome and in blue-and-white. A different type of transfer-printing was used in the late 19th century in such Lisbon factories as that at Sacavém (founded 1856), Constância (founded 1885) and Desterro (founded 1889), which used creamware blanks.

In the late 19th century Manuel Joaquim de Jesús and Luís Ferreira revived the art of hand-painting tiles. The latter, known more familarly as ‘Ferreira das Tabuletas’, created the allegorical scenes on the façade of the factory of Viúva Lamego in Lisbon (1865) where he was director. With the work of José Maria Pereira Júnior (1841–1921), called ‘Pereira Cão’, a pupil of Luís Ferreira and likewise director of Viúva Lamego, the beginning of a romantic ‘picture-postcard’ element crept into themes used in tile-panels; this narrative style was especially used in the decoration of market-places and railway stations by such artists as Jorge Colaço (1868–1942), who created the historical panels in São Bento railway station, Oporto. Artists producing Art Nouveau tiles at this time include Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (see Bordalo Pinheiro family, §1), Júlio César da Silva and José António Jorge Pinto (1876–1945), the last noted for his decoration of kiosks in Lisbon. In the 1930s taste favoured the more severe Art Deco style, and activity was centred on the factories of Lusitânia (founded 1919) and Sacavém in Lisbon, with work by António Costa, a director of Lusitânia. During the austere period of the Estado Novo government, the first significant contribution to the history of modern Portuguese tilemaking was made c. 1944 by Jorge Nicholson Moore Barradas (1894–1971), who was associated with the factory of Viúva Lamego.

The main incentive for the rejuvenation of the azulejo, however, came only at the end of the 1950s after the participation of Portuguese artists in the Congresso Internacional de Arquitectura held in Rio de Janeiro. Following the lead of Brazilian fashion, the tile became more thoroughly integrated in architectural projects in Portugal. Notable examples are the mural decorations in the Avenida Infante Santo (1959) in Lisbon by Maria da Silva Pires Keil do Amaral (‘Maria Keil’, b 1914), of the factory of Viúva Lamego and Sá Nogueira(Rolando de), as well as the large panels in the Metropolitan stations in Lisbon designed by Keil in collaboration with other artists from the same factory such as Júlio Pomar (b 1921) and Vieira da Silva(Marie-Hélène) (1908–92). Major contributions to modern azulejo design have also come from Almada Negreiros, Manuel Alves Cargaleiro (b 1927) and Querubim Lapa de Almeida (‘Querubim Lapa’, b 1925), all associated with the factory of Viúva Lamego.


  • V. Correia: ‘Azulejos datados’, Arqueólogo português, 20 (1915, rev. 2/1922), pp. 1–87
  • F. Guimarães: Azulejos de figura avulsa (Gaia, 1932)
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: ‘Alguns azulejos de Évora’, Cidade Évora, 9–10 (1945), pp. 3–52
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: Os Azulejos do Paço de Vila Viçosa (Lisbon, 1945)
  • M. Monteiro: ‘Os Azulejos do Paço de Vila Viçosa’, Ocidente, 99 (1946), pp. 3–7
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: ‘Panneaux de majolique au Portugal’, Faenza, 32 (1946), pp. 76–87
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: A Casa do Paço da Figueira da Foz e os seus azulejos (Figueira da Foz, 1947)
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: ‘Os Azulejos holandeses do Palácio Saldanha’, Revista e boletim da Academia nacional de belas artes, n. s. 1, 1 (1949), pp. 3–34
  • A. Viana: ‘Azulejos quatrocentistas e quinhentistas do Museu Regional de Beja’, Arquivo de Beja, 7 (1950), pp. 241–76
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: ‘Les Carreaux ceramiques hollandais au Portugal et en Espagne’, Actes du XVIIème congrès international d’histoire de l’art: The Hague: 1955, p. 439
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: ‘Azulejos in a Land of Many Colours’, Connoisseur, 137 (1956), pp. 15–21
  • R. dos Santos: ‘Os Frontais de altar do séc. XVII’, Belas artes: Revista e boletim da Academia nacional de belas artes [prev. pubd as Bol. Acad. N. B.A.], n. s. 1, 10 (1957)
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: Azulejos holandeses no Convento de Santo António de Recife (Recife, 1959)
  • J. C. Loureiro: O Azulejo: Possibilidades da sua reintegração na arquitectura portuguesa (Oporto, 1962)
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: Azulejaria portuguesa no Brasil, 1500–1822 (Lisbon, 1965)
  • R. C. Smith: The Art of Portugal, 1500–1800 (London, 1968), pp. 229–36
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: Azulejaria em Portugal nos séculos XV e XVI: Introdução geral (Lisbon, 1969)
  • R. C. Smith: ‘Trẽs estudos bracarenses’, Belas artes: Revista e boletim da Academia nacional de belas artes [prev. pubd as Bol. Acad. N. B.A.], 24–6 (1970), pp. 49–83
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: Azulejaria em Portugal no seculo XVII, 2 vols (Lisbon, 1971)
  • R. C. Smith: ‘French Models for Portuguese Tiles’, Apollo, 134 (1973), pp. 396–407
  • R. C. Smith: ‘Some Lisbon Tiles in Estremoz’, Journal of the American Portuguese Society, 9/2 (1975), pp. 1–17
  • J. M. dos Santos Simões: Azulejaria em Portugal no século XVIII (Lisbon, 1979)
  • R. S. Calado: Azulejo: 5 séculos do azulejo em Portugal (Lisbon, 1980, rev. 2/1986)
  • A. Guimarães: Azulejos artísticos de Guimarães, séculos XVI, XVII e XVIII (Oporto, [1983]) [excellent pls]
  • J. J. S. S. Meco: Azulejaria portuguesa (Lisbon, 1985, rev. 2/1987)
  • Azulejos: The Stunning Tile Heritage of Portugal, 1600–1986 (exh. cat., ed. J. J. S. S. Meco; London, Barbican A.G., 1986)
  • R. Sabo and J. N. Falcato: Portuguese decorative tiles: Azulejos (New York, 1998)
  • K. F. Beall: ‘Azulejos: Architectural Tiles of Portugal’, Ceramics Monthly, 49/6 (June–Aug 2001), pp. 84–7
  • A. N. Pais, J. P. Monteiro and P. Henriques: The Art of Azulejo in Portugal (Lisbon, 2002)

4. Spain.

  • M. Leticia Sánchez Hernández

The term azulejo describes ceramic tiles used to decorate architectural features. The most important area of production was Andalusia, primarily Seville and Granada (see Granada, §II). From the beginning of the Almohavid period in the 11th century monochrome mosaics in geometric arrangements were enclosed in bands and friezes of the same material. In the 13th century olambrillas—long, narrow, tin-glazed tiles—were used in combination with rectangular, red floor-tiles, and the small square tile was also introduced. During the 14th century alicatados (panels of tile-mosaic) were produced using thin, white tiles with small geometric inlays.

Examples of these techniques are in Seville: Patio de las Doncellas (c. 1350) in the Alcázar and parts of the flooring in the cathedral; Santiponce: the floors of the churches of S Marina and S Isidoro del Campo (both mid–14th century); near Córdoba: the floors in the mosque at Madinat al-Zahra (late 13th century–early 14th); and Granada: the Alhambra. Between the 13th and 14th centuries the production of cuerda seca tiles began (see §I, 2, (i) above). This was the first attempt to mass-produce tiles, and examples of this technique can be seen in the Casa de Pilatos and the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares (both Seville); the Museu do Azulejo, Lisbon; the Hispanic Society of America, New York; the Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan, Madrid; and the ceramic museums in Barcelona.

Another important technique known as cuenca (hollow) (see §I, 2(i) above) or arista (arris) was developed in the 15th century; impressed decoration was produced on square tiles using metal moulds that formed depressions, which were then filled with green, black, purple and beige glazes. These techniques extended to Toledo and Muel. Examples of cuenca tiles are in the convent of S Paula, Seville; the summerhouse of the palace of Charles V, Granada; and the monastery of S María de Tentudía (1518), Badajoz.

The 16th century is marked by the large-scale mural decoration of the Italian Francisco Niculoso (Pisano; d 1529), who settled in the Triana district of Seville and introduced the Italian technique of using flat, polychrome tiles decorated with traced and painted designs. Outstanding examples in Seville are in the chapel of the Visitación (c. 1504) in the Alcázar, the Carthusian monastery of S María de las Cuevas (late 16th century) and in the Museo de Bellas Artes.

In the 17th century a crisis began in the ceramics industry, which was solved by trade routes being established between Valencia and the USA. The aristocracy and religious orders used tiles with their coats of arms or devotional pictures to decorate their gateways. Interesting examples are in the convents of S Clara and Madre de Dios, Seville; the monasteries of S Domingo and S Francisco in Lima, Peru; the Hospital de Mujeres, Cadiz; and the convent of the Encarnación, Osuna. Other centres of tile production included Toledo, Talavera de la Reina and Puente del Arzobispo. Islamic techniques were known and used there, and extant examples include the choir of the convent of S Juan de la Penitencia and the monastery of Santa Cruz. Tile-panels were produced from the 16th century: the Fleming Juan Flores (Jan Floris; d 1567) possibly designed, and Juan Fernández (fl 1570–1603) made blue-and-white tiles for the Alcázar in Madrid and the Escorial with florón grande and florón arabesco motifs. These examples were then imitated in noblemen’s houses and convents in Castille. Examples are the convents of the Encarnación and the Descalzas Reales, Madrid, the Ermita del Prado, Talavera de la Reina, and fragments in the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid. During the 17th and 18th centuries the industry declined in Toledo. In eastern Spain the town of Valencia produced two types of tiles: alfardón, or elongated hexagonal, and alfardón mig, or square, which used Islamic techniques and motifs. From the 16th century ‘Pisano’-type tiles were made for ceilings, floors and kitchens. Typical of the area are the marked and signed socarrats (biscuit-fired) tiles, which at first featured Renaissance figures and later trades. There are examples in the museums of Barcelona and Valencia and in the Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas in Madrid.

During the 18th and 19th centuries production was influenced by French taste, and wall decoration was restricted to hunting scenes for kitchens and staircase risers. About 1855 D. Manuel Soto (1836–1919) and D. Augustin González tried to raise the standards of the tile industry by returning to the traditional Hispano-Moresque and Italian repertories, using flat-tile and cuenca techniques. Important examples from the 18th century are in the church at Rota, Cadiz, and the church of S Ana, Seville; from the 19th century the Hotel Madrid, Seville; and from the 20th century pieces exhibited in Seville’s 1929 Exposición Iberoamericana. In the 20th century the techniques and applications developed in preceding centuries were brought together in friezes, floors and wall coverings. The workshops of Talavera were revived through the work of ceramicists, such as Ruiz de Luna, and private collectors; in Andalusia the Triana centres of Seville produced tiles with traditional Arabic motifs, using the cuerda seca technique; and eastern Spain specialized in the famous tiles portraying trades and occupations. This new flourishing of the azulejo was facilitated by the extension of the market and new techniques of production and transport, which resulted in lower prices and wider availability.


  • J. Gestoso y Perez: Historia de los barros vidriados sevillanos (Seville, 1904)
  • A. W. Frothingham: Tiled Panels of Spain (New York, 1944)
  • A. Sancho Corbato: La cerámica andaluza: Azulejos sevillanos del siglo XVI de cuenca (Seville, 1948)
  • A. Morales: Francisco Niculoso Pisano (Seville, 1977)
  • I. Alvaro Zamora: Cerámica aragonesa decorada (Saragossa, 1978)
  • B. Martinez Caviro: Cerámica española en el Instituto Valencia de Don Juan (Madrid, 1978)
  • J. Aguado Villalba: La azulejería toledana a través de los siglos (Toledo, 1979)
  • M. Casamar: Azulejos sevillanos, toledanos y aragoneses (Pontevedra, 1983)
  • M. L. Sánchez Hernández: ‘La cerámica sevillana’, Antiquaria, 5 (1983), pp. 46–53
  • R. Domenech: El azulejo sevillano (Seville, 1988)
  • A. Pleguezuelo Hernandez: Azulejo sevillano (Seville, 1989)
  • C. B. Grafton: Spanish Tile Designs in Full Color (Mineola, 2001)
  • S. Dalmau i Martínez and R. Masó i Valentí: La ceràmica de la Bisbal aplicada a l’arquitectura de Rafael Masó (Girona, 2002)
  • P. Fenoll Hach-Ali and A. Lopez Galino: Simetria en la Alhambra: Ciencia, belleza e intuicion [Symmetry in the Alhambra: Science, Beauty and Intuition] (Granada, 2003)

5. Scandinavia.

  • Bruce Tattersall

The production of tiles in Denmark evolved as a result of mercantilist policy in response to a large import trade in Dutch tiles, particularly after the Peace of Antwerp (1609). This trade was mainly in tiles from Rotterdam and Makkum, where the archives of the Tichelaar factory show exports to Denmark from 1710. Danish faience factories, making both hollowware and tiles, were often established with the assistance of Dutch émigrés or native craftsmen who had been trained in the Netherlands. In 1722 the first Danish tile and faience factory, the Store Kongensgade, was established in Copenhagen; its director Johann Wolff (fl 1717–28) from Holstein had formerly worked at a faience factory at Nuremberg. Full production was established c. 1724, but Wolff had to leave when he was accused of fraud and was succeeded by Johann Ernst Pfau (d 1752) of Thuringau. In 1735 the factory produced 2000 blue-and-white tiles (destr.) for the Pancake Kitchen in Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød, and in the following year 360 small tiles were supplied for the Dutch Kitchen in the garden of Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen. In 1737 the factory also supplied blue-and-white tiles in the Dutch style for the Eremitagen hunting-lodge near Copenhagen. The tiles were primarily used for interiors with Dutch associations and for stoves; there is no evidence of external or architectural use. Tile production was, however, never profitable, and because of the increased competition from other factories production ceased in the 1750s. Some tiles were also produced in the late 18th century at the Schleswig Factory (1755–1814), but production cannot have been very large, due to increased competition from abroad.

In the late 19th century both the Kongelige Porcelænsfabrik, under Arnold Krog, and the factory of Bing & Grøndahl in Copenhagen produced Art Nouveau tiles. Production continued at both factories in the 20th century.

In Sweden at the factory of Rörstrand, near Stockholm, faience and creamware tiles were made from 1726. Cheap Dutch imports kept production low throughout the 18th century and early 19th, but in 1900 there was a revival of tile production under the new directorship of Alf Wallander (1862–1914). Edward Hald and Louise Adelberg designed tiles in the early 20th century, and some particularly innovative tiles were produced in the 1950s and 1960s in chamotte stoneware, in earth colours with relief decoration.

Norway, as a dependency of Denmark until 1815 and then of Sweden (1815–1906), did not manufacture tiles, relying instead on imports from these two countries and the Netherlands. However, small quantities of specialist tiles, for example for non-slip floors, were made in the 20th century.

As a Russian Grand Duchy, Finland relied on imports from Moscow and the Netherlands for stove and interior tiles. From the 1950s the factory of Arabia, near Helsinki, produced tiles in a restrained and sophisticated style. A particularly successful pattern was ‘Joki’ (fire god) by Heljä Lukko Sundström, produced in the 1960s.

6. Russia.

  • Bruce Tattersall

Tiles were produced in Russia from the end of the 11th century and early 12th in such centres as Ryazan and Vladimir and in techniques and styles influenced by Byzantine art. The Mongol invasions of the 13th century halted all production until the 15th century; stove tiles from this period, made of red clay, with impressed patterns taken from wooden moulds, have been discovered in archaeological sites in Novgorod, where, by the end of the 15th century, tiles decorated in green slip were being produced.

The manufacture of tiles in Moscow with green, brown and yellow slips began in the mid-16th century, as seen in the church of the Virgin of the Protective Veil (Pokrovskaya; 1551–61). In the 1560s low-relief patterns appear on tiles in the cathedrals of Staritsa and Dmitrov. Also from this period small, red stove tiles decorated with the double-headed eagle and other animals were made in Moscow. The influences remained Byzantine and Asiatic, with such subject-matter as the 12 Apostles, fruit and flowers, seraphs and architectural features, especially salomonic columns, all in opaque browns and greens. There was, however, a change in 1709 when Peter I ordered Swedish potters, whom he settled in Moscow’s Arbat district, to make tiles in the Dutch style in green and black, with such subjects as ships, soldiers and lions and other animals, and in greens, browns and blues and Delft-style chinoiseries of such subjects as men on fanciful elephants. At the beginning of the 19th century white faience tiles were decorated with realistic, often military scenes. Manufacture continued in Moscow and later in St Petersburg throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, with some outstanding revolutionary abstract and Suprematist designs in the 1920s.


  • Orsiannikov: Russkie izraztsky [Russian Tiles] (Leningrad, n.d.)
  • A. Berendsen: Tiles: A General History (London, 1967)

7. Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

  • Bruce Tattersall

Tiles have been made in these countries from at least the 9th century ad. Fragments of Carolingian relief tiles were found at the site of the royal palace at Ulm (from ad 854). Made there, they are of an uncertain date and depict lions and griffins in a style derived from Byzantium and Sasanian Persia. In the 12th century relief tiles, both glazed and unglazed, were used as wall covering, in imitation of contemporary textile hangings. The earliest German examples, dating from the second half of the 12th century, are in the church of St Fides, Schlettstadt, Alsace, on both floors and walls; these are hexagonal tiles with centaurs and diamond-shaped tiles with two-headed birds. Production spread to the Rhineland and to Switzerland, where large, mostly unglazed tiles for walls and floors, with impressed images of beasts and foliage in a Romanesque style, were made at the monastery of St Urban, near Zofingen, until c. 1350. Similar tiles were made in remote areas of Switzerland until well into the 15th century. Rhenish tiles, made from c. 1250 to 1400, have stamped linear patterns, heraldic devices, stags and huntsmen, often in alternating red and grey. Centres of production were Mainz, Worms and Cologne.

In the 16th century new ideas and techniques came with Italian immigrants and influences. In 1520 an unnamed Italian potter was recorded in Nuremberg, where standard-size, square, tin-glazed tiles were made throughout the century. Their colours are more matt than Italian prototypes and incorporate thick black outlines. The tradition of relief tiles was continued, particularly in Stuttgart, where sophisticated tiles decorated in white with red backgrounds were produced. From the 16th to the 19th century earthenware, tin-glaze and stoneware tiles were made in Switzerland and Austria, primarily for stoves. Stylistically they ranged from simple cubes to ornate, architectonic forms. From the 17th century green and yellow monochrome, lead-glazed relief tiles were produced in Nuremberg for stoves, floors and walls.

The import of Delft tiles from the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th centuries had a dual impact on tile production: areas in Germany near the Dutch border could not compete with the price of the imported tiles, whereas tiles produced further afield emulated the Dutch style with varying degrees of sophistication and naivety. The earliest examples of such tiles are those made in Frankfurt between 1702 and 1708 by Johan Kaspar Rib (1681–1726), a tin-glaze potter from Delft. Rib later worked with another Dutchman, Daniel Kayck, in Brunswick, making tiles that can easily be mistaken for Dutch. Delft-style tiles were made between 1728 and 1734 at Erfurt. Carl Friedrich Lüdicke produced tin-glazed tiles at his potteries in Berlin and Potsdam between 1756 and 1779; one of his most significant orders was in 1776 for tiles ordered by Catherine II of Russia for the Admiralty, St Petersburg. Another major tile factory was at Ansbach, which in 1763 produced some of the finest tin-glazed tiles made in Germany for the Residenz, Ansbach. They are decorated with delicate vignettes of birds, musicians, tavern scenes, duellists or other gallantries. Other towns in both Austria and Germany were known to be centres of tile production, but in these cases output was small, and their products cannot be identified. Most porcelain factories made tiles to order, but they never became a major item of production. A notable order was for tiles from Meissen for Graf Heinrich von Brühl’s bathroom at Schloss Brühl, near Dresden (c. 1743). These are decorated with bunches of polychrome flowers.

Tiled façade of the Majolika Haus by Otto Wagner, Vienna, 1898; photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

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In the 19th century production was largely confined to utilitarian tiles, until the end of the century and the beginning of the 20th when the Jugendstil and Vienna Secession movements widely adopted tiles for external architectural use. Joseph Maria Olbrich used tiles in many of his buildings at the artistic colony in Darmstadt. The Haus Habrich (1900) is decorated with alternating blue-and-white tin-glazed tiles around the doors and windows. The Hochzeitsturm (1905–8) is decorated with blue tin-glazed tiles, which outline the top. Also in Darmstadt, Peter Behrens used polygonal, turquoise tin-glazed tiles in columnar form around the doors of his own house (1900–01). Olbrich used tiles externally in decorative patterns on the Secession Building (1897–8), Vienna, and Otto Wagner pioneered complete tile facing in his Majolika Haus (1898; see fig.), Vienna, the façade of which is covered in tiles decorated with flowers and tendrils, the rhythms of which are echoed in the cast-iron balconies. In such later buildings as the villa (1912–13) at Hüttelbergstrasse 28 and the Wilhelminen hospital (1910–13), both in Vienna, Wagner chose a more restrained manner, using blue-and-white countercharged tiles in chequer patterns and in designs based on Mycenaean art. Max Fabiani continued the trend set by the Majolika Haus in his headquarters for the Portois & Fix interior design company (1898–1900), Vienna, where he used plain tiles in brilliant green monochrome in complex linear geometric patterns. In Switzerland the trend of using architectural tiles is evident in such new buildings in a derivative Secessionist style as the Galeries du Commerce (1908–9), Lausanne, by Rosset & Schmid.

In the late 20th century there was a revival in domestic and architectural use of tiles. The German-based factories of Villeroy & Boch produced many modern tile designs, and the Nordentche Steingut Fabrik, Grohnde, specialized in architectural work.

8. France.

  • Hans van Lemmen

Tile production can be traced back to as early as the 11th century in the Lisieux area in Normandy. In the 13th century two-coloured inlaid floor-tiles were produced for use in churches, as seen in the chapter house of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives Abbey, Normandy. At the beginning of the 16th century immigrant Italian potters produced painted maiolica tiles in Lyon and Nevers. The production of floor-tiles by this technique (generally known as faience in France) soon spread to other places, in particular to Rouen, where a thriving faience industry developed. The influence of the Italian maiolica tradition can be seen in the polychrome painted, tin-glazed floor-tiles (in situ) by Masséot Abaquesne (fl 1526–59) at the Château at Ecouen, near Paris. The production of tin-glazed tiles continued during the 17th century, especially in Lyon and Nevers.

From the mid-18th century Sèvres (near Paris) produced delicately painted plaques and tiles for use in furniture, such as that made by Bernard van Risenburgh and Martin Carlin (e.g. secrétaire, c. 1765; London, Wallace). In Lille such manufacturers as Febvrier, Wamps and Masquelier produced tin-glazed wall tiles, which showed the influence of Dutch delftware. These were used in fireplaces and as wall-cladding. Throughout the Pas-de-Calais in the 18th and 19th centuries tiles were manufactured in Saint-Amand-les-Eaux, Saint-Omer and Desvres; founded in 1804, the Fourmaintraux factory, Desvres, continued to make tin-glazed tiles in the late 20th century.

In the 19th century many tiles were manufactured in the area around Beauvais, Oise. Patterned tin-glazed tiles made at Ponchon and Saint-Paul show affinities with Dutch delftware and were to a great extent executed with the aid of stencils rather than painted free-hand. They are predominantly blue and purple and are found in kitchens and fireplaces throughout France. During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th a great quantity of polychrome encaustic tiles was produced. They were often machine-pressed with decorative designs in such colours as blue, grey, white, brown, green and black, for use not only on floors and walls in churches, shops, cafés and houses but also as exterior decoration on the façades of buildings. Important manufacturers of these tiles were Boulenger at Auneuil, Colozier at St-Just-des-Marais (both near Beauvais) and Boch-Frères at Maubeuge (near Valenciennes).


  • La Céramique architecturale des années 1900 dans le Beauvasis (exh. cat. by J. Cartier, J. Galiègue and H. Morisson, Beauvais, Mus. Dépt. Oise, 1980)
  • Carreaux de faïence dans le nord de la France, 1650–1850 (exh. cat. by G. Becquart and C. Dhérent, Saint-Omer, Mus. Dupuis, 1982)
  • M. Carette and D. Deroeux, eds.: Carreaux de pavement médiévaux de Flandre et d’Artois (Arras, 1985)
  • D. Deroeux, ed.: Terres cuites architecturales au moyen âge (Arras, 1986)

9. Italy.

  • Bruce Tattersall

The tradition of using mosaics and fresco painting militated against the employment of tiles, either as flooring or as wall decoration, until the 14th century, when the Crusades opened up influences from the East and trade with Spain, which made the Italians aware of their tin-glazed hollowware and tiles. In the early 14th century exteriors began to be decorated with bacini—round, hollow maiolica dishes that were set into the walls of churches and public buildings. Examples in the Palazzo Mansi, Lucca, and S Piero a Grado, Pisa, have bold, geometric patterns in green and manganese in-glaze colours. In the late 14th century and early 15th maiolica plaques or reliefs, mostly made in Faenza and Deruta, were used as house signs (examples in Paris, Mus. Cluny).

The earliest surviving example of tile paving is in S Giovanni a Carbonara, Naples, dating from 1427 to 1432. While the concept of such flooring came from Spain, the style is that of contemporary Italian maiolica with designs of profile heads, heraldic devices, animals and leaves in blackish blue, green, yellow and purple. The tiles, oblong hexagonals surrounding squares, were probably made in Tuscany. When Alfonso I became King of Naples and Sicily in 1435, he brought Spanish tiles and ideas of interior decoration from Aragon; tile-panels began to appear during his reign. Tile pavements appear in the north, at the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, by the della Robbia; at S Silvestro al Quirinale, Rome; and at S Maria della Veritá, Viterbo (c. 1470). Some of the earliest tiles made in Faenza (1471–82), from the dismembered pavement of the convent of S Paolo, Parma, have amorous inscriptions and depict mythological scenes (Parma, G. N.), while others have profile portraits of contemporary figures (London, V&A). About 1470, decoration with rosettes, palmettes and pomegranates, derived from Persian textiles, appeared on tiles made in Faenza, a style that spread to Tuscany, Umbria and Antwerp. Three major pavements were made in Faenza in the late 15th century and early 16th. The one at S Petronio, Bologna, of 1487 has hexagonal tiles with classical motifs of bucrania, grotesques and trophies, as well as amorous symbols. The pavement of c. 1500 at S Sebastiano, Venice, combines classical motifs with Persian elements. The third pavement (c. 1532; disassembled; many of the tiles in London, V&A) came from the studio of Pietro Andrea. Commissioned by Bartolomeo Lombardini (1430–1512) for his chapel in S Francesco, Forlì, it contained tiles with portraits of Andrea, Lombardini and the painter Melozzo da Forlí, in a full palette with arabesque borders.

In the 1520s and 1530s the maiolica painter Francesco Xanto Avelli produced large panels intended as wall decoration, based on the prints of Marcantonio Raimondi. Two fragmentary series by him exist of the Trojan War (London, BM; St Petersburg, Hermitage) and of scenes from Persian history (Berlin, Schloss Köpenick; Paris, Louvre; Warsaw, N. Mus.).

In Sicily in the 16th century a distinct style developed, centred in the old Arab production towns of Caltagirone and Sciacca. Large tile-panels in the Spanish tradition were produced, such as the Old Testament panel (1540s) in S Giorgio, Sciacca.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the Kingdom of Naples was the predominant area of Italian tile production, with its centre at Castelli. In the 17th century production followed the stylistic examples of wares produced in Faenza in the 16th century, but in the 18th it employed motifs similar to the tableware produced there, including landscapes, seascapes, horses and riders, and genre scenes. From 1757 to 1759 the porcelain factory of Capodimonte produced for Charles III a porcelain-tiled room (now in Naples, Capodimonte) for the Palazzo Reale at Pórtici. The tiles, covering the walls, floor and ceiling, depict chinoiserie and singerie motifs.

In the 19th and 20th centuries the north became the dominant area of tile production, with the adoption of industrial manufacturing methods. Bologna, which hosts annual international tile trade exhibitions, has become the main centre of production. From the 1960s, when interest in the architectural interior and exterior use of tiles was revived, Italian manufacturers established a reputation for being avant-garde. The architect Enrico Sottsass produced such designs as ‘Alderbaran’ (1990), a colourful, free-form design reminiscent of an amoeba. The fashion designer Ottavio Missoni (b 1921) produced tile patterns that suggest bargello work. Danielle Bedini produced a series of severe monochrome embossed tiles, called ‘Teckne’, in black, white and grey, aimed specifically at use by architects.


  • S. Liverani: Five Centuries of Italian Maiolica (London, 1957)
  • A. Berendsen: Tiles: A General History (London, 1967)
  • M. Iozzi:: ‘Bacini corinzi su alto piede’, Annuario della Scuola archeologica di Atene e delle missioni italiane in oriente, 63 (1985), pp. 7–61
  • M. Caporilli: L’Arte del calore (Trent, 1986)
  • J. Lessmann: ‘Xanto’s Panels’, Burlington Magazine, 133 (1990), pp. 346–50

10. USA.

  • Cleota Reed

English transfer-printed decorative tiles were in use in North America as fireplace facings as early as the 18th century. Before 1850, however, tile production in the USA was limited to plain, undecorated paving and roofing tiles made by colonial redware potters. Production of decorative tiles began in earnest in the 1870s, inspired by the English imports shown in 1876 at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia. Over the next 25 years many immigrant tilemakers brought English ceramic technology and design to the USA, where native clays and motifs were used to produce distinctly American tiles. By 1900 at least 40 potteries produced decorative tiles, and by 1930 there were nearly 200 potteries in this line of production.

American decorative tiles fall into two stylistic groups: machine-made art tiles of the late Victorian period (1870–1900); and handcrafted Arts and Crafts Movement tiles after 1900, first made in the east from c. 1897 to the late 1920s and then in California from 1911 until the late 1940s. Victorian art tiles, machine-pressed from dry clay dust, successfully competed with imports. Tiles for fireplaces, walls and other vertical surfaces have realistic or idealized imagery, often in relief or intaglio but also transfer-printed or hand-painted. Ornamental floor-tiles are sometimes encaustic. Clay bodies are often white porcelain, and glazes are frequently glossy and transparent. The most important art-tile producers before 1900 include Hyzer & Lewellyn (founded in Philadelphia in 1872), the Chelsea Keramic Art Works (Chelsea, near Boston, MA, 1872), the American Encaustic Tiling Co. (Zanesville, OH, 1875) and the J. &J. G. Low Art Tile Works (Chelsea, near Boston, MA, 1877), among others. The most influential designers and modellers were Hugh Cornwall Robertson, Isaac Broome, Herman Carl Mueller (1854–1941), John Gardner Low (1835–1907) and Arthur Osborne (c. 1877–c. 1911), most of whom worked for more than one pottery.

Exceptions to factory manufacture in the 1870s include hand-decorated tiles by such artists as John Bennett (fl 1876–82) and Charles Volkmar (1841–1914). From 1877 to 1887 a group of 30 painters, including Winslow Homer, formed the Tile Club in New York and decorated tiles at their meetings.

From 1895 to 1914 the Arts and Crafts Movement transformed decorative tile design in the USA. Tile firms led by inspired artists adopted a handcrafted style, in appearance if not always in fabrication. These tiles were pressed from plastic clay and decorated with stylized, conventionalized designs, often of medieval, romantic and American vernacular subjects, with matt glazes on flat or counter-relief surfaces. Several key figures making handcrafted tiles during this period in the east included Henry Chapman Mercer (1856–1930), an archaeologist, who established the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, PA, in 1898; William Henry Grueby and Addison Le Boutillier (1872–1951), who worked at Grueby Faience, Boston; Mary Chase Perry, who established the Pewabic, Detroit; and Arthur Eugene Baggs. Such art potteries as the Rookwood Pottery opened faience divisions (1902), and university art courses such as that at Newcomb College, New Orleans, produced Arts and Crafts tiles in addition to other wares. Many commercial tile factories also set up divisions to meet the market for handcrafted tiles.

By 1904 a population shift to the west and a consequent building boom opened a new market for tiles, which led to the development of the California tile industry. In 1915 both the Panama Exposition in San Diego and the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco incorporated displays of colourful California faience, making an impact on taste in the western USA equivalent to that of the Centennial International Exhibition on the east coast four decades earlier. Some California tilemakers developed regional expressions of the Arts and Crafts Movement, designed for use on fireplaces. Other Californian tilemakers were influenced by Hispano-Moresque traditions and created light-hearted designs glazed with bright colours. Important California tilemakers, many of whom began their careers in the east, include Fred Wilde (1857–1943), Rufus Keeler (1885–1934), Ernest Batchelder (1875–1957), Albert Solon (1887–1949) and Fred H. Robertson (1869–1952).

In the 1930s Art Deco and in the 1940s Art Moderne tiles of machine-made uniformity were produced throughout the USA. Between 1940 and 1980 the decorative ceramic tile was only a minor element of architectural decoration. Both artist–potters and historians revived an interest in decorative tiles in the 1980s and 1990s, intensifying the documentation of historic tiles while also developing new approaches to the incorporation of contemporary handcrafted tiles in architecture.


  • J. Barnard: Victorian Ceramic Tiles (London, 1972)
  • R. Kovel and T. Kovel: The Kovels’ Collector’s Guide to American Art Pottery (New York, 1974)
  • American Decorative Tiles (exh. cat. by T. Bruhn, Storrs, U. CT, Benton Mus. A., 1979)
  • S. Strong: History of American Ceramics: An Annotated Bibliography (Metuchen, NJ, 1983)
  • C. Reed: Henry Chapman Mercer and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works (Philadelphia, 1987)
  • R. L. Rindge and others: Ceramic Art of the Malibu Potteries, 1926–1932 (Malibu, 1988)
  • Flash Point, 1–7 (1988–95)
  • L. Rosenthal: Catalina Tile (Sausalito, CA, 1992)
  • J. Taylor: ‘Creating Beauty from the Earth: The Tiles of California’, The Arts and Crafts Movement in California: Living the Good Life, ed. K. Trapp (New York, 1993)
  • S. Tunick: ‘The New World’, Tiles in Architecture, ed. H. van Lemmen (London, 1993)
  • Tile Heritage, 1–2 (1994–5)
  • T. Herbert and K. Higgins: Decorative Tile in Architecture and Interiors (London, 1995)