Portuguese ‘’Azulejo’’ – Hand painted tiles A precious legacy from the past

A big hug to all of you hoping you’re well and safe!

Allow me today to introduce you to something else we can call Precious Art: The portuguese azulejo.Many are the visitors who believe that the word derives from the color in which most of them are painted : blue , in portuguese language azul, so a-zu-le-jo. Nothing more wrong!
Actually, do you happen to know why we tend to say royal blood is blue? And why the royalty has been side by side with church linked to the use of this expensive work ? That is what i am going to explain, making a very long story short, of course, since it is all going back to one thousand and three hundred years ago.

So, once upon a time, the region where Portugal was born, was invaded, dominated and developed by different civilizations that left a deep mark, sometimes deep enough to be part of our environment nowadays. We are still using some utensils or technics introduced to the Iberian Península on roman times, cartaginian times or, in a more recent past, moorish times. And that’s where the story of azulejo starts.
It arrived in Portugal in 1498, by King D. Manuel I, on one of his trips to Spain. Portugal learned the method of manufacture and painting, and Portuguese tile became one of the strongest expression marks of its culture.

The brightness, exuberance and fantasy of ornamental motifs came from the East. The blue porcelain arrived from China, which, in the second half of the 17th century, gave the tile compositions without repetitive character, full of dynamism and forms in movement.

At the end of the 17th century, Portugal imported large quantities of tiles from Holland, absorbing the purity and refinement of the materials, as well as the idea of specialization of painters.

Although prominent and resurgent in Portuguese culture, the tile has Arab derivations in its own semantics. The term azzellj means small polished stone, and was used to designate the mosaic itself used in Byzantine art. However, as far as we know today, it designates a piece of ceramic of small thickness, usually square, with one of the faces glazed. Traditionally formatted in 15 × 15, it results from the enamel firing, which coats and makes this square piece waterproof and resplendent.

Interestingly, even in the days of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, the use of tiles is evident, having experienced a geographic and expressive expansion from the Islamic presence and manifestation in the Mediterranean region, spreading throughout the Iberian Peninsula. It is in the East that the production of coatings for Chinese porcelain is consecrated, and its art, in proportion to the dynamics of Islamic enlargement, reached the regions where it was felt. Thus, Muslim artisans settled in various parts of the peninsula, and, tending, they planted the seeds of Mudejar architecture on Spanish soil, and of the art of tiles in Portugal. All of this right in the middle of this millennium. Meanwhile Portugal which had already a long ceramic tradition, gave up importing from Spain to make its own tile, and which propagated this same device to the colonies it held then. The feeling of enchantment was immediate, and there was a prospect of an eternalization of these mosaics in what would be a legacy for Iberian artisans.

It is the ruling classes that cultivate the taste for tiles first, choosing the most appropriate theme for the decoration of the buildings; from military campaigns, historical episodes, to everyday scenes, religious, mythological and even some satires. The potters were responsible for satisfying requests, copying models, adapting fashions and styles. At the end of the 17th century, the quality of production and execution is higher, there are entire families involved in this art of making tiles and, some painters begin to assert themselves as artists, starting to sign their works, thus beginning the Masters Cycle .

From the 19th century onwards, the tile gains more visibility, leaves the palaces and churches for the façades of the buildings, in a close relationship with architecture. The urban landscape is illuminated by the light reflected on the glazed surfaces. Tile production is intense, new factories are created in Lisbon, Porto and Aveiro. Later, already in the middle of the 20th century, the tile enters the railway and metro stations, some sets are signed by established artists. The tradition has become even more popular, presenting itself as a decorative solution for kitchens and bathrooms, in a test of resistance, innovation and renovation of this small piece of ceramic.

Now, answering the first question made in the beginning, why people had the tendency to say royalty had blue blood? This term refers to European Royal nobility and is a metaphor that describes the profound blue appearance of the veins and skin. The term Blue Blood (aka sangre azul) has origins that may predate recorded history. With majority strugling to acsess to water and shower, no doubt the white clean skin of the wealthy ones would stand out the veins that look like carrying blue blood.

Some places where you can see Portuguese tile panels:

São Bento Station, Porto;
Santo Ildefonso Church, Porto;
Church of the Congregates, Porto;
Capela das Almas, Porto;
Church of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, Lamego;
Convent of Santa Cruz do Buçaco, Buçaco;
Convent of Christ, Tomar;
São Quintino Church, Sobral de Monte Agraço;
Quinta da Bacalhoa, Lisbon;
São Roque Chapel, Lisbon;
Graça Convent, Lisbon;
São Vicente de Fora Convent, Lisbon;
Palace of the Marqueses de Fronteira, Lisbon;
National Palace of Queluz, Lisbon;
Ferreira das Tabuletas House, Lisbon;
Mitra Palace, Azeitão.

And..last but not least, at Saint Lawrence church in Almansil, Algarve.I leave you with some pictures, including my sister’s wedding and my son’s christening just to have you writing this place on your list for when you’re visiting Algarve.


WHY I LOVE PORTUGAL ? And not only me…

I know a country:

• That in 30 years went from one of the worst infant mortality rates (80 per thousand) to the fourth lowest rate in the world (3 per thousand);

• That in eight years built the second most important European registry of bone marrow donors, indispensable in the fight against leukemic diseases;

• Which is a world leader in liver transplantation and is second in kidney transplantation;

• Which is a world leader in the application of immediate implants and fixed dental prostheses for total edentulous patients;

• That there is a company that developed software to eliminate paper as a support for the clinical record in hospitals (Alert), another that is one of the largest Iberian companies in the computerization of pharmacies (Glint) and another that invented the first Portuguese anti-epileptic (Bial );

• Which is the world leader in the renewable energy sector and the fourth largest wind energy producer in the world, which is also building the largest dam plan (ten) at European level (EDP);

• That invented and developed the world’s first prepaid mobile payment system (PT), which is a world leader in identification software (NDrive), which has a company that corrects and detects flaws in NASA’s computer system (Critical) and which has the best business incubator in the world (Instituto Pedro Nunes of the University of Coimbra);

• That wears one hundred million people worldwide and produces the second most expensive footwear worldwide, right after the Italian. And that manufactures innovative sheets, with different odors and anti-germ properties, where, for example, 30 million Americans sleep;

• Which is the “state of art” in plastic molds and the world leader in technology for energy transformers (Efacec) and which revolutionized the concept of toilet paper (Renova);

• That it has one of the best Multibanco (ATM) systems in the world and that it has developed an innovative system of paying at motorway tolls (Via Verde);

• That revolutionized the distribution sector, which won awards for the construction of shopping centers in other countries (Sonae Sierra) and which leads the “hard-discount” sector in Poland (Jerónimo Martins). * In addition to this, it is the largest producer of cork (Amorim Group) that leads production and processing worldwide;

• That manufactures the swimsuits that broke records at the Beijing Olympics, worn by ten of the equestrian teams that were at those Games ,that is the world’s largest producer of sport kayaks ,that has one of the best football teams in the world, the best coach on the planet (José Mourinho) and one of the best players (Cristiano Ronaldo);

• That has a Nobel Prize for Medicine (Egas Moniz), and a Nobel Prize for Literature (José Saramago), one of Mozart’s most notable interpreters (Maria João Pires) and several internationally recognized painters and sculptors (Paula Rego, Júlio Pomar, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, João Cutileiro);

• Which has two Pritzker Prize winners – Nobel Prize for Architecture (Siza Vieira and Souto Moura), and had a Pope, João XXI (Pedro Julião Rebolo);

This country is Portugal. It has everything written above, plus …. a wonderful sun, a dazzling light, fabulous beaches, great cuisine and a lot of warmth to welcome everyone!

Welcome to this country you don’t know: PORTUGAL

Text from Nicolau Santos in ”Revista da TAP”