Man have been making objects of clay for many thousands of years. These
were fired at a temperature of 800-1000° Celsius. This type of
earthenware is porous and not suitable for liquids. The discovery of
lead-glaze, many centuries ago, has been very important. Objects covered
with lead-glaze are fired a second time and in the process the
lead-glaze melts and hardens into a thin layer of transparent and
glasslike material. The object becomes impregnated and waterproof; at
the same time the surface is much more interesting and improved.
In the Middle-East, about 1000-600 before Christ, tin-glaze was used.
After firing this becomes opaque and a shiny white. The decorations
which are applied on top of this white surface stand out clearly. This
technique of decoration initiated an important change in ceramic art.
When Egypt, North-Africa and Spain were conquered by Arabic (Islamic)
tribes (in the 6th - 14th century), it was not only the Islamic belief
that became wide spread, the Islamic art and its highly developed
architecture became also widely known.
fig. 1 The
polychrome pattern is composed by more than one tile. End of
The tiled walls of the
Alhambra (14th century), the palace of the
Moorish (Islamic) Kings in Granada (Southern Spain) are magnificent
examples of Islamic art. Glazing of ceramics was then introduced into
Spain developed an industry of earthenware and tiles which flourished in
the 15th century. Moorish influences continued to be felt for a long
time in the decorations. From Spain a lot of earthenware was exported to
Italy. And this contributed to the establishment of an important
earthenware industry in Northern Italy.
In the early part of the 16th century, Antwerp was a thriving port and a
centre of science and culture, attracting many people from elsewhere,
also many Italian potters. Among other things, they made polychrome
tiles with ornamental patterns. The colours were blue, green, purple,
orange-brown and bright yellow (fig. 1).
Polychrome tile with just a part of the pattern. First half 17th
Each tile bears parts of the total
pattern (fig. 2), the whole pattern being completed on 4 or 16 tiles, which
produced a fine decorated effect (fig. 3).
fig. 3 The entire
pattern is built up with 16 polychrome tiles. First half 17th c.
In 1585, during the Eighty Years War,
Antwerp was taken by the Spaniards. Trade came to stand still, freedom
of religion was put to an end. This resulted in many tradesmen going
abroad. Among them were the potters, who left for England, Germany and
It is understandable that the first tiles made in the
Northern-Netherlands bear much resemblance to those who are made in the
southern part of the Low Countries. After some time, about 1600, they
begin to show a character which is more genuinely Dutch even if still
polychrome. The ornamental pattern of the tile is gradually disappearing.
Each tile gets its main motif, such as a portrait, a soldier or an
animal, in a circle or a square (fig. 4).
Later we see all kinds of fruit (pomegranates, grapes, oranges and
apples) and flowers appearing on the tiles. A characteristic feature is
also that blue/white decorations of the corners of each tile, make a new
pattern when four tiles are put together (fig. 5).
Early in the 17th century kilns for earthenware and tiles are appearing
in Utrecht, Delft, Gouda, Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Makkum and Bolsward.
Polychrome tile with a figurative decor in the central part.
First half 17th c.
Polychrome tiles. The blue-white corners form a pattern by
themselves. First half 17th c.
From about 1620 the well-known blue tiles appeared beside the polychrome
ones. On blue tiles, the pattern is painted in blue on the opaque white
tin-glaze sub-layer. Why in blue?
About the year 1602 the first blue Chinese porcelain came to Holland as
a result of the trade with China. This porcelain was called "kraak-porcelain"
because the first porcelain that was traded on the Dutch market came
from Portuguese ships that were captured by the Hollanders. These were "carracas"-type
ships (kraken), hence the term "kraak-porcelain".
Millions of China bowls, jugs and
dishes were shipped to Amsterdam by the East Indian Company (fig. 6).
Amsterdam the costly China was further traded through Europe. This
Chinese porcelain was much in demand and expensive. The Delft potters
and those in other towns tried to imitate the Chinese porcelain and
applied the Chinese decorations to the earthenware they made.
fig. 6 Blue
Chinese porcelain dish.
First half 17th c. Imported.
fig. 7 Blue tile.
Motif borrowed from imported Chinese porcelain.
First half 17th c.
1640 and 1800 Chinese porcelain was most successfully imitated in Delft.
The potters called themselves "porcelain-potters". This was not correct
because the products they made were of earthenware. In Europe the
process of making China porcelain was not yet known at that time. Porcelain was first made in Germany in 1709. With the imitation of the
blue China imported from China, also blue tiles made their appearance
The "Delft blue" became world famous, to such an extend that it became
the general name for all earthenware objects and tiles which were
painted in the same blue colour, even if they not had been made in Delft.
"Delft blue" is known all over the world.
With prosperity in general on the
increase, tiles became to be more in demand. They found ample
application in houses, such as round chimney places, in corridors, round
staircases, in kitchens and as lintels. The tiles were painted with
scenes from daily life, such as men on horseback, soldiers, men and
women during their work, ships, children playing, landscapes and with
scenes from the Bible (fig. 8 to 12).
Owl. Second quarter 17th c.
fig. 9 Lady
with a mill-collar. Second quarter 17th c.
Merchantman. Middle 17th c.
Second half 17th c.
fig. 12 Bible
tile. Travelling to Egypt.
Second half 19th c.
The craftsmen who painted the tiles were
general not accomplished artists and often used prints from famous
artists as an example. The engravings by Pieter Schut (1615-1660) served
as examples for the biblical scenes painted on tiles. We know of 592
different biblical scenes depicted on tiles.
EXPORT OF TILES AND TILE-PICTURES (1650 - after 1800)
Thousands of tiles and many tile-pictures (two or more tiles together
become a picture or decoration) in blue and in manganese, but also
polychrome, were made to order for palaces, churches and convents in
Portugal, Spain, the Azores, Brazil, France, Germany, Poland, Denmark
and even Russia. These orders were mainly carried out by potters in
Rotterdam, Delft, Harlingen and Makkum.
Tile picture with a ship "Tlandt van Belofte", Amsterdam,
Gerrit de Graaf (1732-1794).
Famous are among others the
large tile-pictures with views of harbours and rivers painted by Cornelis
Boumeester in the tile factory "De Bloempot" at Rotterdam. Fine specimen
are to be seen in palace Saldanha in Lissabon (ca. 1715) and the castle
of Rambouillet in France which is still open for visitors. The largest
tile-pictures ever made in the Netherlands can be seen in the convent
church of Madre de Deus at Lissabon, one picture even consists of 931
tiles! In the large hall of the Beauregard Castle, near Blois (province
Loir-et-Cher) France, one finds a floor composed of 7.145 different blue
tiles from ca. 1627. The tiles have soldiers as a decoration in blue. In
the course of some centuries these tiles, which meant to be wall tiles,
but which were used as floor tiles, have suffered considerable damage
notably by the German occupation in World War II. In the visitors guide
of the museum this tiled floor is described as "unique en France
and as "A whole army on the march" (Toute une armée
Some very fine tiled wall-pictures were
made in Friesland in about 1740 and later (fig. 13). Some were
ordered by sailors who lived on the islands of the German and Danish
coasts and who sailed in Dutch merchant ships and whaling vessels. When
they had made a profitable voyage, these sailors ordered a tiled
wall-picture depicting one particular ship. Sometimes the name of the
ship and as well the name of the captain were mentioned on it. Some of
these tile-pictures of ships are still to be seen on the islands and
also in museums in North-Germany and Denmark.
Ornamental tiles painted in purple. The pattern is composed
by more than one tile. Second half 18th c.
At the end of the 17th century the purple tiles came in demand, beside
the blue ones. In Friesland blue has always remained predominant. In the
second half of the 18th century, the ornamental tiles, which showed the
influence of the so-called Lodewijk-styles, regained
importance (fig. 14).
fig. 15 Chimney of
the Zaan region, called "Smuiger". Decorated with blue tiles
depicting with scenes of the Bible. Originating from a house in Wormer.
In some parts of the Netherlands e.g. in the provinces of Zeeland,
Friesland and Overijssel, the walls of the living room and the kitchen
were tiled from floor to ceiling. In the Zaan region and West-Friesland
we find a special type of chimney piece which was completely tiled,
which bows forward at the top, called the smuiger (fig. 15). The
tiles are painted with scenes from the Bible.
In the second half of the 19th century the manufacture of tiles
decreased as a result of a declining economical situation and the
competition of mass-produced industrial tiles from England and Germany. Moreover
wallpaper came into fashion, which was much cheaper!
fig. 16 Jugendstil
tile. Early 20th c.
Around 1900 there was a small revival in
the manufacture of tiles: then Art-nouveau motifs were depicted on tiles
which were mainly applied in buildings, in porches and above windows
Three Dutch tile factories are still operating dating from the second half
of the 17th century:
Tichelaars Koninklijke Makkumer aardewerk en tegelfabriek b.v. Makkum, anno 1660.
Koninklijke Delftsch Aardewerkfabriek "De Porceleyne Fles", anno
Faience- en Tegelfabriek "Westraven" in Utrecht, anno 1661. In 1963
this factory was taken over as a daughter by the N.V.
Koninklijke Delftsch Aardewerkfabriek "De Porceleyne Fles".
Recently tiles and the tile-making business are regaining interest. At
the present day, tiles are being made in the same way as it used to be
done in Makkum, Harlingen, Utrecht and Rotterdam, centuries ago. The
manufacturing process has been simplified, but the painting of the
decoration on the tiles is still being done in the old style and manner;
the decorations applied are also mostly from days long ago.
fig. 17 "Spons"
with inscription "PG 24 sponsen", Harlingen ca. 1685 (PG = Pieter
HOW TILES ARE MADE
Various kinds of clay are mixed.
The mixture of clay is washed with water. Straw, little stones etc. are
The mixture of clay is rolled out into tablets.
With the aid of a frame, tiles are pressed out of the tablet.
The wet clay-tiles are dried.
The tiles are fired in a kiln at ca. 1000 C°.
One side of the tile is covered with tin-glaze. This tin-glaze looks
like white slip, it is a mixture of tin-ashes, quartz, sand, soda and
The tile is decorated. The decoration pattern is applied by means of a
piece of pounced paper (fig. 17). The stencil (in Dutch called 'spons') carries
the lines of the pattern in pricked holes. This stencil is laid on the
tin-glazed side of the tile. A pouch with charcoal powder is pressed
onto the stencil and charcoal dust is forced through the holes, so that
the decoration appears in black marks on the tile.
The painter draws lines along the black dust tracks and proceeds to
finish the drawing by painting light and shade.
The tile is fired a second time at about the same temperature. The
tin-glaze melts into a white opaque layer, in which the painted
decoration stands out clearly.
A. (red) - Groot tegelboek,
Amsterdam, Elsevier Nederland, 1975.
Elling, G. und W.
- Fliesen und Fliesenbilder im Westmünsterland, Vreden, Heimatverein Vreden zur Landes- und Volkenkunde, 1978.
C.H. de - Nederlandse tegels, 2e druk, Amsterdam, Becht's uitg.
Huijg, A - De bijbel op tegels, Boxtel, Katholieke bijbelstichting, 1978.
Joliet, Wilhelm -
Die Geschichte der Fliese, Verlagsgesellschaft Rudolf Müller,
G. - Bemalte Wandfliesen,
München, Verl. Callwey, 1973.
- Tegels, 7e druk,
- De tegelverzameling Nanne Ottema in het "Princessehof" te Leeuwarden.
Afl. van het "Mededelingenblad van de Vrienden van de Nederlandse ceramiek",
1969, nr. 56/57.
Lemmen, Hans, van - De Nederlandse Tegel, Uitgeverij Elmar
B.V., Rijswijk, 1997.
Lüden, C. und W.
- Holländische Fliesen in Norddeutschland,
Boyens & Co., 1978.
Scheurleer, D.F. - De verzameling tegels in het Rijksmuseum
"Zuiderzeemuseum" te Enkhuizen. Overdruk van "Uit het Peperhuis",
1966, serie 3, nr. 5/6.
Scheurleer, D.F. - Zeewezens op tegels, Lochem, De Tijdstroom.
Nederlandse tegels ca. 1600-1800.
's-Gravenhage, Haags gemeentemuseum, 1974.
- De plateelbakker of Delftsch aardewerkmaaker,
Amsterdam, Buyten & Schipperheijn/Repro-Holland, 1979.
Pluis, J. - De
Nederlandse Tegel, decors en benamingen, 1570-1930 / The
Dutch Tile, designs and names, 1570-1930, Leiden, 1997.
Pluis, J. -
Bijbeltegels, Bijbelse voorstellingen op Nederlandse wandtegels
van de 17e tot de 20e eeuw / Bibelfliesen, Biblische
Darstellungen auf niederländischen Wandfliesen vom 17. bis zum 20.
Jahrhundert, Ardey-Verlag, Münster, 1994.
Pluis, J. - Bijbelse voorstellingen op tegels en Fries aardewerk,tentoonstellingscatalogus, Otterlo, Tegelmuseum "It Noflik Sté", 1972.
Pluis, J. - Kinderspelen op tegels,
Assen, Van Gorcum, 1979.
- Schiffsbilder auf fliesen.
van het Friesisches Jahrbuch, 1970.
Pluis, J. - Tegels, de invloed van de etsen van A. van der Laan op de
tegelschilders van schepentableaus. Overdruk van het jaarverslag van
het Fries scheepvaartmuseum en oudheidkamer te Sneek, 1965 en 1966.
M. van den Akker en H.E. Muller - Dieren op tegels. Afl. van het
"Mededelingenblad van de Vrienden van de Nederlandse ceramiek", 1974, nr. 75/76.
Santos Simoes, J.M. dos
Carreaux céramique hollandais au Portugal et en Espagne,
's-Gravenhage, Nijhoff, 1959.
Vis, E.M., C. de Geus und F.W. Hudig
- Altholländische Fliesen,
Schiedam, Interbook international, 1978, 2e dln. Fotomechanische
IMPORTANT TILE COLLECTIONS CAN BE SEEN
IN FOLLOWING MUSEUMS
museum "De Nieuwe Doelen"
Rijksmuseum, zie ook de studiecollectie - Museum Willet-Holthuysen
Rijksmuseum "Huis Lambert van Meerten"
Rijksmuseum "Het Zuiderzeemuseum"
en aardewerkmuseum De Moriaen”, Stedelijk Museum
Gemeentemuseum "Het Hannema Huis"
LEEUWARDEN : 1) Fries Museum; 2)
Gemeentemuseum "De Lakenhal"
: 1) Museum Boymans van Beuningen; 2)
Historisch museum "De Dubbele Palmboom"