Tile in Portugal

O Azulejo em Portugal

The Origin of Tiles in Portugal

Azulejo is the Portuguese word for a square ceramic plate with one side decorated and glazed. Its use is common to other countries such as Spain, Italy, Holland, Turkey and Morocco, however in Portugal it is a unique case due to its full intersection in the dialogue between architecture and decoration. It appeared more than five hundred years ago, influenced by the oriental culture that decorated the walls of palaces and sacred spaces with mosaics. At the end of the 15th century, ornamentation began with the first examples coming from Seville, on the walls of the court and clergy spaces in Portugal. In 1560, the first pottery workshop in Lisbon appeared, thus beginning the history of Portuguese tiles.

The Case of Portuguese Tiles

This is a technique that evolves with times, needs and artistic movements, constantly establishing a crossover with other arts. Depending on the location, the themes chosen varied, the main ones being historical, religious, mythological episodes and, at times, everyday scenes and military campaigns. With the Renaissance, the quality and quantity of production was increasing and artists began to assert themselves as such, and they started to sign their works, both in painting and in the decorative arts. In the Baroque period, in the reign of D.João V (1706-1750), the tiles were involved with carving, in order to cover an entire surface. In the 18th century, with the wide opening of the markets of the East and the exploration in Africa and America, the European bourgeoisie managed to possess precious goods and decorate their house according to the style of the time. Thus, tile previously exclusive to the wealthy classes began to cover bourgeois houses and gardens.

After the earthquake of 1755, the need to rebuild Lisbon imposed a new rhythm in the production of patterned tiles. In this way, industrial and artisanal techniques were applied to decorate the new buildings, in a kind of horror of emptiness. Also in Portuguese colonies, such as Brazil, the art of tiles was used on the facades of buildings. In the second half of the 19th century, the lower cost standard tile became a fundamental element in Portuguese façades, giving an urban identity from north to south of Portugal.

Tiles by Júlio Pomar and Siza Vieira

The Turn from Modern to Contemporary Art

Among the various aspects that characterize the Portuguese artistic culture, the tile has assumed a prominent role as one of the arts that best identifies the Portuguese heritage. At the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, Bordalo Pinheiro produced Art Nouveau tiles at the Faience Factory in Caldas da Rainha, and in 1937, Paolo Ferreira presented a panel consisting of tiles integrated in modern architecture, at the Pavilhão de Portugal in the International Exhibition from Paris. However, the great revitalization of tiles at this time came with Jorge Barradas, who modernized its architectural application, thus inspiring young post-war artists.

In the second part of the 20th century, artists such as Maria Helena Vieira da Silva , Júlio Pomar , Manuel Cargaleiro , Sá Nogueira and Eduardo Nery were invited to cover the walls of the new stations in the Lisbon Metro with tiles. Later, with the opening of new branches, new works were commissioned to artists such as Júlio Resende , Querubim Lapa, Menez, Cecília de Sousa, Martins Correia , Joaquim Rodrigo, Jorge Martins , Costa Pinheiro, Graça Pereira Coutinho, Zao-Wo-Ki, Sean Scully and Hundertwasser. At Expo 98, artists such as Pedro Cabrita Reis , Pedro Casqueiro, lda David and Fernanda Fragateiro recovered the tradition of ceramic coating in their works. In recent decades, numbered editions of individual tiles, designed by artists and reproduced in factories, have been quite successful. Examples are the productions created at the Viúva Lamego and Ratton Ceramics factory, Sereia drowning a girl by Paula Rego , drawings by Júlio Pomar and architect Siza Vieira , among other artists.

Paula Rego | P55 Magazine | P55 - The Platform of Art

Mermaid drowning a girl by Paula Rego

The Tradition of Tile

For more than five centuries, tile has been a continuous and diverse technique applied in architecture in different ways, adapted to the demands of each period. Its uniqueness is evident compared to tiles in other countries, being a national phenomenon that helps to build the country's collective memory even unconsciously. Contemporary artists have applied the tile tradition in order to value and preserve it, as well as offering a new conceptual and aesthetic reading of this ancient technique. These square plaques found in most Portuguese buildings tell the history of ceramics in this country, thus playing a major role in artistic creation. In conclusion, the tile, either because of the longevity of its use or because of the way in which it is applied indoors and outdoors, has become the main protagonist of the identity of Portuguese architecture.

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