Blue White Delft

Blue White Delft

A History of Ceramic Tiles

Ceramic tiles are extremely popular today because they are extremely easy to maintain, very cost effective over a long term and they look great. However, they are also more expensive to install although most people tend to look to the lifetime savings they will have when using them. So what exactly is the history of the ceramic tile?

Tiles are wondrous and have a very long history going back to as far as ancient Egypt nearly 6000 years ago in 4000 BC. It is said that tiles are the simplest, oldest form of ceramic art and throughout history tiles were made by many cultures including the Babylonians, The Islamic Empire and the Assyrians. Early tiles can be seen in Tunisia, Kashan Iran and many varied middle-eastern mosques display Koranic scripts using highly colored relief tiles from around the 12th century onwards.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, many of Europe’s Churches were paved with decorated tiles and Holland even became an important center for the trade of tiles in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century – Britain itself became added even more prestige for their methods of mass-producing tiles. However, the earliest tiles in Western Europe were found in various locations around England circa late 10th century AD. Glazed tiles were considered only for the wealthy and the wealthy sponsored many churches and monasteries with these wonderful creations.

At the start of the 16th century, Moorish methods of tiling found their way through Spain and a wonderfully beautiful example of their craft work can be found at the Alhambra Palace in Granada as well as the great mosque in Granada. The Dutch method of tin glazed tile making spread to the English.

The Dutch became famous for their tiles when in 1544 the first potter was set up in Delft. This quaint Dutch town became world famous in less than fifty years for their fine craftsmanship and their tiles were widely sought after. However, with success, there came competition and the Dutch were not able to hold out any longer. Many potters went bankrupt. The Delft style is considered a great European tile making tradition alongside the Maiollican style from Italy and Spain. The processes applied to the ceramic tiles they made using a tin based glazing process produced such distinctive effects that they were held in very high regard.

The Maiollican tiles were varied and colorful and as their nickname (“paviamenti”) suggests, they were widely used for flooring. Delft tiles fell away from the use of many colors and instead veered away to the Chinese influenced blue and white combinations that are prevalent today.

English tile making experienced a massive boom with the mass production of tiles and this was greatly accelrated by the rise of the Industrial Revolution. It slumped with the turn of the century and the mantle of mass producer was taken on by the Americans. The Americans however, had to compete with the English imports and thus never lost their competitive edge. Ceramic tiles – a true handicraft that has stood the test of time.

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Antique Dutch (19th Cent) blue and white Delft porcelain