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A Portuguese 'tell-tile' art

Trisha Bhattacharya, April 6, 2014, DHNS; 20:41 IST

Decorative

Glazed paintings on ceramic tiles of decorative caliber and purpose, in varying placements and stretches, still ornament some of the ancient as well as new buildings of Portugal and Spain.

The period from the late 17th century to the early 18th century saw the remarkable art called Azulejos flourish in the region.

A work of ornamental creativity steeped in history, culture, legends, narratives (even portrayal of arts like music and dance, folk tales, historical events, people, characters and forms), Azulejos took the place of pride in several locations.

Apart from embellishment, this ornate tile work also assisted in temperature control and dampness.

The art itself came from the Arabs to Europe and can be seen in Lisbon and other cities in Portugal.
In the beginning, designs used for Azulejos were simple — they were geometric and floral.

Later on, figures of animals and human beings contributed to the developing collection of designs, which also included Baroque elements and inspired symbols, some even from India.

As seen around

A traditional palette of blue and yellow and a specific blue-and-white tile work, inspired by other world arts, are the colours used in Azulejos art.
Azulejos can be seen occupying the interiors and exteriors of buildings, churches, palaces, park benches, bus stands, train stations and subway stations in Portugal.

These are either unique works of art, or geometric tiles produced en masse.

Azulejos is extraordinaire in simple delineation and detailed storytelling, and it graces facades, windows, walls, ceilings; floors of private residences, mansions, embassies; and ordinary homes in incandescent wonder.

Many museums in Portugal, like the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, house special works of Azulejos from different time periods.

Fortunately, we can also see Azulejos closer home, in Goa, a former Portuguese colony.

Once the Portuguese left Goa, the art did not survive there. However, the endeavor of artists brought about its revival.

The founder of ‘Turi Azulejos’, Shankar Turi, who studied Azulejos in Lisbon and is currently the proprietor and an artist at the Azulejos Tile Centre in Goa, shares, “The art originally began in the 15th century and came from the Moors, or the Arabs, to Europe.
Europeans applied this hand art, using water mixed with paint, which gave rise to hand-painted ceramic tiles and crockery.

Azulejos is unlike ‘blue pottery’, which is simply tiles painted and then glazed.

On the other hand, the Azulejos-making creative process is more intricate.

The tile biscuit is first baked and glazed, after which a design is drawn on it, and then it is painted.

Depending on the paint, the temperature is decided and the tile is fired again.”

He adds, “In Goa, you can see Azulejos, in the interior of homes, in churches, in gardens, as inserts, murals, as portraits and pictures, on ceramic mugs and plates, as footpath decoration and nameplates.
You will see it in Panjim, Madgaon, Goa state museums and other places, and you will definitely see a lot of Azulejos nameplates everywhere.”

Notes on the art form

Orlando de Noronha, the owner of Azulejos de Goa, informs further, “Azulejos is a Portuguese word derived from the Arabic ‘Al-Zulaya-Cha’, meaning, ‘a little polished stone’.

It was an art that Portugal learnt from the Moors who occupied the land centuries ago, and from neighbouring Morocco.

Obviously, it came to Goa via Portugal. It is not possible to pinpoint ‘a person’ who may have brought it.

But it surely was an art that many religious institutions and houses of the nobility in the city of Goa encouraged.”

On the Goan influence on Azulejos, he says, “Our products have an overwhelming Goan influence.
Most of our designs draw from Goan cultural motifs and depict Goan lifestyle, professions, architecture etc.
Original Portuguese motifs are also incorporated, but it depends on what our clients’ requirements are.
I mainly use shades of blue, yellow and green. In Goan designs, the themes are generally taken from daily life, cultural events such as Carnaval, Bonderam, folk dances such as Dekhni, Mando etc.
We also wish to immortalise our traditional occupations, like that of the toddy tapper, the fisherman, the village baker, and others.”

This beautiful workmanship of original Azulejos and its traces in India are therefore art pieces which are preserved and have endured time.

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