Thursday, June 23, 2011

Makers of Tiles

Tiles are used to cover many surfaces in Iran, most notably mosques, shrines, palaces, and tombs. They are used to protect these buildings from the elements on the outside and hence have to be water-tight and durable and to beautify these buildings on the inside. So the role of the tile makers and tile workers is very important indeed. The exterior tile work on the dome of Imam Mosque in Esfahan, to the left,  is faience mosaic. Below is a shot of the interior tile work in Imam Mosque.

We learned about two major kinds of tile work:

Faience mosaic tile work. Large sheets of individually colored tiles are fired, each according to the specific temperature that the color needs to be most beautiful. Following the design on a paper pattern, these larger tiles are cut into smaller shapes and set into gypsum to form a mosaic pattern. This form of tile making came into prominence in the Ilkhanid Dynasty in the 13th and 14th centuries but continued into the 16th and 17th century as well. The photo above showing the intricate detail of faience mosaic is from the Blue Mosque in Tabriz which dates from 1465 but collapsed in an earthquake in 1773. It is in the process of being rebuilt. Notice the beautiful calligraphy woven into the third strip from the bottom.

Seven Color Tiles. These square tiles are positioned together, painted as a whole, often with very complicated designs, and then fired. They were developed and used a lot by the Safavid Dynasty in the 17th century as they were rebuilding Esfahan and continued to be in used through the Qajar Dynasty in the 19th century. These tiles are not as brilliant as the faience mosaic tiles because they are fired at a temperature which best suits the majority of the colors but not all of them. Over time, the colors fade. But they are much less expensive to produce.The example to the left comes from the Pink Mosque in Shiraz and dates from the 19th century.

In Yazd we had the chance to visit a tile store. One of the owners does tile repair work on many of the tiled structures around Iran. Repairing old tiles is one reason the tile craft has stayed alive and well in Iran. The small tiles and ceramic objects that we saw in the shop are made primarily for the tourist trade. They are wonderful, none the less.

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