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Dutch tiles in Portugal

Despite its extensive and impressive production of azulejos, Portugal imported decorative tiles from the Netherlands.

Despite its extensive production of azulejos, with its impressive variety of decorations, Portugal imported decorative tiles from the mid-17th to well into the 18th century. The application of mercantilist trading principles under King Pedro II led to a phase of prosperity, so the import bans on Dutch tiles, imposed in 1687, were lifted in 1698.

The Dutch produced tiles of excellent artistic and technical quality, which in Portugal satisfied the luxurious demands of the ruling class. For this reason, they can only be found in sacred buildings and aristocratic palaces. However, the share of these tiles was limited to less than one percent of the total amount used in this period. There is evidence that workshops from Amsterdam, Harlingen, Rotterdam and Utrecht delivered tiles to Portugal.

One of the most striking examples of Dutch tiles can be found in the church of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré. The decoration of the church can be seen as a result of the economic boom and the exchange of goods that began with it. The tiles were negotiated through the Lisbon-based commercial agent Pedro Brukhuis.

Joseph in Egypt. Gospel side © WJ
Joseph in Egypt. Gospel side © WJ.

The eminent Portuguese tile expert João Miguel dos Santos Simões, in his book Les carreaux céramiques hollandais au Portugal et en Espagne, drew attention to the Dutch tiles in Nazaré, and published a document proving the reception of the tiles in Lisbon’s harbor.

The work, signed by Willem van der Kloet (1666-1747), was made in his pottery “De Twee Romeinen” on the Prinsengracht, in Amsterdam. The financial ledgers of the Real Casa de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré indicate that the figurative tiles were painted around 1708-1709.

On the Gospel side, the tile panel, in the arched area, describes the glorification of Joseph, a model of wisdom and chastity. The story of Joseph can be found in the Jewish Tanakh, the Christian Bible, and also in the Islamic Koran. The 12th sura of the Koran bears the name of the prophet Yusuf. The text is very similar to the biblical text in Book 1 of Moses (Genesis) and the description of the Patriarch Joseph’s life in the Tanakh.

A panel depicting putti playing in a garden with sculptures accompanies the scenes with instances from the story of Joseph in Egypt. The engravings by Gerard de Lairesse, which appeared in Amsterdam in 1694, under the title Leodiensis pictoris opus: Elegantissimum, Amstelaedami ipsa manu tam aeri incisum, quam inventum et per Nicholaum Visscher cum privilegio ordin general Belgii foederati editum, inspired Van der Kloet.

Putti decorate a sculpture. Gerard de Lairesse, 1694. © Rijksmuseum.
Putti decorate a sculpture. Gerard de Lairesse, 1694. © Rijksmuseum.

With the same purpose of the episodes from the story of Joseph, the side of the epistle’s panel describes the glorification of the Israelite King David, called Dawüd in the Koran. David’s victory over Goliath is mentioned in sura 2, verse 252, and in suras 21 and 38, he is described as a righteous ruler and judge. There are interesting similarities in David’s biography in the Bible, the Koran, and the Tanakh.

In the southeast and northeast of the transept, above the doorways, there are two panels with scenes from the books of the prophets: Jonah is thrown into the sea and Jonah is spat out by the fish.

King David. Epistle side © WJ
King David. Epistle side © WJ.

The tile producer Willem van der Kloet was part of the best society in Amsterdam. His clients included the wealthiest Amsterdam regents, rich merchants, real estate agents, and organizations. However, he owed his prosperity not least to the export of large quantities of tiles to Portugal.

With the sets of Nossa Senhora da Conceição dos Cardais, painted by Jan van Oort and the Church of the Convent of Madre de Deus, also by Willem van der Kloet, the tiles from Nazaré are one of the best examples of the enormous quality of Dutch production of this period.

ESSENTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY

SIMÕES, João Miguel dos Santos. Les carreaux céramiques hollandais au Portugal et en Espagne. La Haye: Martinus Nijhoff, 1959.

MARGGRAF, Rainer. Os azulejos de Willem van der Kloet em Portugal – Willem van der Kloet tile pictures in Portugal. Lisboa: Electa, Museu Nacional do Azulejo, 1994.

Nazaré, Santuário da Nossa Senhora da Nazaré

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