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.

Enjoy!

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