1902 Encyclopedia > Mural Decoration > Mural Decoration Methods: (3) Wall Linings of Glazed Bricks or Tiles.

Mural Decoration
(Part 3)


(3) Wall Linings of Glazed Bricks or Tiles.

3. Wall-Linings of Glazed Bricks or Tiles.— This is a very important class of decoration, and from its almost imperishable nature, its richness of colour, and its brilliance of surface is capable of producing a splendour of effect that can only revalled by glass mosaics. In the less important form—that of bricks modelled or stamped in relief with figures and inscriptions, and then coated with a brilliant colour in siliceous enamel—it was largely used by the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians as well as by the later Sasanians of Persia. In the 11th and 12th centuries the Moslems of Persia brought this art to great perfection, and used it on a large scale, chiefly, though not invariably, for internal walls. The main surfaces were covered by thick earthenware tiles, overlaid with a white enamel. These were not rectangular, but of various shapes, mostly some form of a star, arraged so as to fit closely together. Very delicate and minute patterns were then painted on the tiles, after the first firing, in a copper-like colour with strong metallic lustre, produced by the deoxidization of a metallic salt in the process of the second firing. Bands and friezes with Arabic inscriptions, modelled boldly in high relief, were used to break up the monotony of the surface. In these, as a rule, the projecting letters were painted blue, and the flat ground enriched with very minute patterns in the lustre-colours. This combination of bold relief and delicate painting produces great vigour and richness of effect, equally telling whether viewed in the mass or closely examined tile by tile. In the 15th century lustre-colours, though still largely employed for plates, vases, and other vessels, especially in Spain, were but little used for tiles; and another class of ware, rich in the variety and brilliance of its colours, was extensively used by Moslem builders all over the Mohammedan world. The most sumptuous sorts of tiles used for wall coverings are those of the so-called "Rhodian" and Damascus wares, the work of Persian potters at many places. Those made at Rhodes are coarsely executed in comparison with the produce of the older potteries at Ispahan and Damascus (see POTTERY). These are rectangular tiles of eathenware, covered with a white "slip" and painted in the most brilliant colours with slightly conventionlized representations of various flowers, especially the rose, the hyacinth, and the carnation. The red used is a very rich harmonious colour, applied in considerable body, so as to stand out in slight relief. Another class of design is more geometrical, forming regular repeats; but the most beautiful compositions are those in which the natural growth of trees and flowers is imitated the branches and blossoms spreading freely over a large surface covered by hundreds of tiles without any repetition. One of the finest examples is the "Mecca wall" in the mosque of Ibráhím Agha, Cairo; and other Egyptian mosques are adorned in the same magnificent way (fig. 2).

Wall tile, mosque, Cairo, Egypt image

Fig. 2 -- One of the Wall-Tiles of the Mosque of Ibrahim Agha, Cairo. 10 inches square.

Another variety, the special production of Damascus, has the design almost entirely executed in blue. It was about the year 1600 A.D., in the reign of Shah, Abbas I., that this class of pottery was brought to greatest perfection, and it is in Persia that the most magnificent examples of its use are to be found. Nothing can surpass the splendour of effect produced by these tile-coverings, varieties of which, dating from the 12th to the 17th centuries, were largely used in all the chief buildings of Persia. The most remarkable examples for beauty of design and extent of surface covered by these tiles are the mosque at Tabríz, built by Ali Khoja in the 12th century, the ruined tomb of Sultan Khodabend (1303-1316A.D.) at Sultanieh, the palace of Shanh Abbas I. and the tomb of Abbas II. (ob. 1666 A. D.) at Ispahan, all of which buildings are covered almost entirely inside and out with magnificent sort of decoration.

Another important class of wall-tiles are those manufactured by the Spanish Moors, called "azulejos," especially during the 14th century. These are in a very different style, being designed to suggest or imitate mosaic. They have intricate interlacing geometrical patterns marked out by lines in slight relief ; brilliant enamel colours were then burned into the tile, the projecting lines forming boundaries for the pigments. A very rich effect is produced by this combination of relief and colour. They are mainly used for dados about 4 feet high, often surmounted by a band of tiles with painted inscriptions. The Alhambra and Generalife palaces at Granada, begun in the 13th century, but mainly built and decorated by Yusuf I. and Mohammed V. (1333-1391 A. D.), and the Alcazar at Seville have the most beautiful examples of these "azulejos." The latter building cheifly owes its decortions to Pedro the Cruel (1364 A. D.), who employed Moorish workmen for its tile-coverings and other ornaments. Many other buildings in southern Spain are enriched in the same way, some as late as the 16th century.

Almost peculiar to Spain are a variety of wall-tile the work of Italians in the 16th and 17th centuries. These are effective, though rather coarsely painted, and have a rich yellow as the predominant colour. The Casa de Pilatos and Isabel’s chapel in the Alcazar palace, both at Seville, have the best specimens of these, dating about the year 1500. In other Western countries tiles have been used more for pavements than for wall-decoration.[Footnote 36-1]


(36-1) See Layard, Nineveh; Texier, L’ Arménie, &c.; Prisse d’ Avennes and Bourgoin, L’Art Arabe (1869-77); Hessemer, Arabische Bau-Verzierungen (1853); Monumentos Arquitectonicos de España (1859-82), article "Alhambra"; Parvilée, Architect. et décor. Turques, xve Siècle (1874) ; Coste, Mon. mod. de la Perse (1867).

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