Mudéjar Ceramic Tiles

After the reconquest of Toledo, Spain in 1085 CE, there were many Muslim people still living in the region under Christian rule. These people were called Mudéjar. Mudéjar artisans were employed to build and decorate new Christian churches erected in southern Spain, and they utilized their tradition of elaborate pattern-making and ceramic tilework in the architectural structures.

Mudéjar art in southern Spain flourished in the 14th and 15th century. After Columbus discovered the new world in 1492, many Mudéjar artisans (as well as Christian artisans schooled in the traditions of Islamic design) migrated to areas of New Spain where Mudéjar styles survived into the 16th and 17th centuries.

The House of the Marquis de Rivera (called the “Casa de Pilates”) in Seville, Spain, contains some examples of tiled courtyards and rooms that exemplify the overall effect of Mudéjar ceramic tile decoration.

There were several styles of ceramic tiles used in Mudéjar architecture, including “arista” (or “cuenca”), “cuerda seca” and “majolica” tiles (developed later, in the 15th and 16th centuries).

Both arista and cuerda seca tiles have raised ridges which separate glaze colors. The Museum With No Frontiers describes how arista and cuerda seca tiles are made:

Arista Tile Example. Source: Museum With No Frontiers

The cuenca o arista technique imitates tile mosaic. While the pattern of tile mosaic is made by cutting and assembling polychrome glazed tiles, the design of tiles worked in cuenca o arista technique is made by filling small pattern fields formed by thin strips of clay with different glazes. Where the glaze flowed over the frame, the design does not stand out clearly

Source: [http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;se;Mus01;15;en&cp]

Cuerda Seca Tile Example. Source: Museum With No Frontiers

The cuerda seca technique involves pressing a patterned mould gently onto the surface of the clay; the outlines and boarders of the pattern are then coated with a mixture of manganese-oxide and grease to prevent the different coloured glazes from running into each other. After completing the application of the greasy substance and the coloured lead-based glazes, the tile is fired. While the coloured glazes fuse themselves to the body of the tile and harden, the greasy mixture burns away leaving a clearly defined unglazed outline, ‘cord’, round all the compartments that make up the design.

Source: [http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus04;50;en&pageT=N&cp]

Maiolica ceramics were developed in the 15th centuries and widely produced. With this stylistic innovation, artisans were able to apply colors directly onto ceramic tiles coated with opaque white foundation. This direct, painted application gave birth to a burst of tile production throughout Spain and, ultimately, wider Europe.

Maiolica style tile (Source: Museum With No Frontiers)
Source: [http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;es;Mus01;45;en&pageD=N&cp]

Mudéjar artists employed various types of tile into these architectural structures in southern Spain. Many decorated buildings remain in decent to excellent condition. I am planning an expedition through Andalucía in Spain in early 2022 to explore and photograph remnants of this marvelous era.

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