The church of Santiago in Carmona lies in the province of Seville, about thirty kilometers from the city itself. The area prospers in the trade of wine, olive oil, grain and cattle, and Carmona was a Roman stronghold with its history tracing back to the time of Julius Caesar.
In the late 19th century, according to the scholar Anthony Ray, an exciting discovery was made at the church when a secret ceiling of around 2,000 tiles was uncovered, disguised behind the existing decoration. The tiles dated to the first half of the 16th century, c.1525-50, and displayed various different patterns in the ochre, blue, green and lustre glazes so typical of tiles produced in the region during this time. What followed was presumably an auctioning or selling of these pieces, as Ray records that in February 1881 the Victoria & Albert Museum acquired 42 of de dos por tabla, or pairs of ceiling tiles, recovered from the church for their collection. The vendor, an Edmund Noel explained in a letter how the tiles were discovered: “A few months ago a bricklayer removing a broken ceiling within an old church at Carmona…found over it another, and older ceiling of azulejos gilt and reflêts [sic] métalliques, about 2000 in number, but in different patterns or drawings.”
Noel went on to detail that ‘Rothschild’ had bought some of the tiles, and that the Cluny Museum as well as the King of Portugal were also keen to obtain some for their own collections. They were not alone: around 1890 a museum in Cologne acquired tiles with comparable decoration and four years later the National Museum of Scotland procured similar items too. Examples featuring the documented patterns, or similar, also exist in the Carranza Collection in Seville, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and at the Museum of the Hispanic Society of America in New York, which may also have been from the church of Santiago, Carmona.
These 2,000 pieces formed part of a much larger landscape in tile production within the province of Seville. Anthony Ray states in his book, Spanish Pottery, 1248-1898
“In the sixteenth century the tile industry in Seville reached great artistic heights, producing fine tiles in both the traditional cuerda seca and arista techniques and in the new maiolica technique which by the end of the century had achieved total dominance.”
The tiles found in the church at Carmona were arista tiles, whereby moulded raised lines created the patterns displayed, helping the glazes to stay separate. These types of tiles became the most lucrative of the pieces produced in the region of Seville, and gained prestige and demand oversees being an export commodity for Spanish potters. Sixteenth century examples have been found in Sinatra, Portugal and England, and it is thought they were also included in the cargo of ships destined for the ‘New World’.
The versatility of tiles also arguably led to their success in Spain, where they were used on floors, walls and ceilings and for street names and funerary plaques. They were also often placed within churches for ornamental as well as educational purposes, and their decoration took on repeating floral patterns as well as figurative and religious displays. Their distinctive designs lasted the test of time, and arguably influenced European potters such as Minton and the Derby Tile Company during the late 19th century too.
Our Works of Art specialists are excited to offer a private collection of 16th century Spanish tiles in their Fine Furniture & Works of Art auction this September. The items total around 200 pieces and feature patterns of tiles included by Anthony Ray in his book, Spanish Pottery 1248-1898, a discussion of the Victoria and Albert’s collection of tiles from the church of Santiago in Carmona. There are also similar patterns found in publications by Alfonso Pleguezuelo, Edwin Atlee Barber, and Brigitte Klesse - catalogues of the Carranza Collection, Seville, the Hispanic Society of America, New York, and the Museum of Applied Arts, Cologne.
Barber, Edwin Atlee. Spanish Maiolica in the Collection of the Hispanic Society of America, New York 1915
Ray, Anthony. Spanish Pottery 1248-1898, with a catalogue of the collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2000
Klesse, Brigitte. Kunstgewerbemuseum der Stadt Köln - Majolika, Köln 1966
Pleguezuelo, Alfonso. Lozas y Azulejos de Triana – Colección Carranza, Seville 2011
We would like to thank Celia Curnow for her assistance with research for this article.