History of Spanish Tiles

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History of Spanish Tiles
A look into the history of ceramics shows the decisive influence of Spain in the birth and evolution of ceramic tiles, adapting the contributions of the Arab culture from the 11th Century.

jjIn the Middle Ages, the Iberian Peninsula became the meeting place where different factors such as the rich Tardoroman and Visigothic ceramic tradition, the technological equipment and decorative repertoire of Egyptian-Mesopotamian tradition, together with the aesthetic Nordic and Mediterranean contributions to the new values of the Christian world would meet. The result was a kaleidoscopic, artistic panorama that, in spite of the disparity of the elements of origin, attained a surprising degree of aesthetic coherence equal to that attained in other areas of the culture, society or economy of Mudejar Spain.
First technological contributions of the 11th Century
Among the technological novelties that arrived with the invasion of Spain by the Arabs, what most stood out because of their subsequent consequences, were various ceramic processes that served to provide the product with a glassy layer that made it impermeable and moreover constituted the base and coating of its eventual chromatism or decoration. These processes include transparent or light green lead-glazing, decoration on white engobe and under a transparent glaze and metallic highlights, which was already originally done in the 11th Century in Mesopotamia, Persia or Egypt.

This technique soon reached the Iberian Peninsula and an important production factory was established in Malaga. The architectonic application of golden highlights as facing during the Islamic era was known, as the one-base semi-spherical segment that completed the turret of the greater mosque of Seville (12th Century) and other building in the city. This process was very much admired by travellers as witnessed by El Idrisi during his pass through Calatayud in 1154.
The pressure of the Christians in the 15th Century forced the metallic highlights production factory to be transferred from Malaga to Manises, which marked the beginning of a fruitful relation that would last for centuries between the Andalusian hub and the Mediterranean strip of the Iberian Peninsula, where the greater part of Spanish tiles are currently produced.
12th and 13th Century arabesque tiling
The first samples of glazed ceramic used in architecture dates back to the end of the 12th Century. Experts seem to connect the techniques used and their profuse application with Persian architecture, and suspect that the families of potters that emigrated to Al Andalus (Andalusia) could have influenced the development of arabesque tiling in the 14th and 15th Centuries following the invasion of Gen Gis Khan in Iran.
The use of tiled paving and stays became an extended custom in the south of Spain. Before 1240, lbn Said made reference to the ceramic tiles manufactured in Andalusia, where it was used in the facing of houses called a-zala,iyi (tiles). According to this chronicler, "it had a wide variety of colours and replaced the coloured marble used by the Orientals to embellish their homes."
The arabesque tiles show how cultural elements developed and their designs became progressively more complex, with meticulous geometrical shapes, requiring more virtuous elaboration, as can be seen from the tiles that decorate some of the rooms of the Alhambra of Granada.


Granada 14th Century: culture and comfort
In the architectonic field, it was in the 14th and 15th Centuries that unusual levels of sophistication were reached, fundamentally in the arabesque tiling technique used preferably in paving and stays.
The extremely specialised labour required for this and other decorative works was a common feature of different sectors of the Granada economy during the 14th and 15th Centuries. Fed by the gold that came from Sudan, they also found an invaluable source of income in the export of their own image as a customhouse stamp of the standard of living of a courtly, aristocratic, educated society with an acute sense of comfort.
15th Century: Tiles from Manises for Europe, America and the Orient
During the Arab era, the areas surrounding Valencia were already an important ceramic producing region, and smart business policies were the best support for a distribution network of ceramic products in different Christian and Muslim Mediterranean states, through the port of Valencia which was the most active Mediterranean port at the time.
The favourable treatment given to products from Manises by the Republic of Venice was well known. Tiles from Manises and Paterna were also used in constructions in Liguria, and tiles were sent to Egypt, Syria and even Turkey.
However Italy was perhaps the most important client. In 1445-57, Alfonso the Magnanimous ordered his palace, Castel Nuovo, in Naples, to be floored with tiles form Manises decorated with his coat-of-arms. Manises also became the central supplier of paving for the Papacy itself, whose rooms it decorated during the 15th Century.


Seville in the 16th Century
Towards 1500, with a slump in production by Manises and Granada, other cities took over, especially Seville and Toledo. These cities were the main production centres of a new technique: the decoration of the main motif on the spongy square piece, which greatly facilitated laying and the appearance of the first mass production processes. The success of this technique was tremendous and within a few years it had invaded the Spanish, European and American markets. The latter specially needed a cheaper product that would allow it to be exported and above all, that would be easy to lay, something that Manises had left clear since the 14th Century through it commercial success.
Tiles from Seville also reached Great Britain, furnished the Vatican rooms of Pope Leon X (1513 - 1521) and the San Angelo castle in Rome, besides decorating palaces in Naples and Genoa that are conserved to date.

Protoindustry and industrialisation
This is the most outstanding information on Spanish tiles; origins full of history, tradition and culture.
Later, in the 17th and 18th Centuries, considerable changes took place that caused strong fluctuations in the production centres. Subsequently, in the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th Century, they entered a protoindustrial stage that resulted in the appearance of the first printed catalogues, the incorporation of promotional aspects of the product and the Universal Exhibition of Barcelona in 1888.
Years later, technological advances would bring Spanish ceramics to the superior quality levels that it has on the threshold of the 21st Century.


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