Tools of the Trade
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Beautiful hand-painted decorative tiles cover the interior and exterior of many buildings in Portugal, the most famous works found churches, palaces, schools, and train stations. Patterned ceramic tiles were introduced to Spain and Portugal by the Moors in the 13th century. Known as azulejos, the painted tin-glazed ceramic tiles were used for both artistic and utilitarian purposes. At the height of azulejo popularity in Portugal, blue and white figured tiles covered flat surfaces with scenes of Portuguese history, cupids hanging from vines, historical figures, the lives of the saints, or architectural and floral elements. But not all of tile surfaces were so grand. Walk down any street in Aveiro and be amazed by the infinite number of tile patterns used purely for surface decoration, patterns that go on into infinity.
In the mid-19th century, Brazilian immigrants introduced industrialized tile production. As the Portuguese adopted the Brazilian fashion of decorating the facades of businesses and houses, Lisbon factories began using transfer-print methods to produce large quantities of blue-and-white or polychrome patterned azulejos. As I walked through Aveiro last week, I tried to find two facades with matching tiles—No such luck. I’m not sure of the age of the tiles in the gallery. Most appear to be transfer-prints, but one or two may be hand-painted.