The Learned Tile Painter

To run for the position of master of the Real Fábrica de Louça do Rato, Francisco de Paula e Oliveira valued the importance of the tile painter’s erudition.

Usually, pottery and tile painting were separate professional areas during the 17th and 18th centuries. In an exceptional path, Francisco de Paula e Oliveira trained, first, as a potter, then as a pottery painter, and finally began to paint figurative tiles.

Although this meant an advance to the previous situation, the brief training in drawing at the Real Fábrica de Louça do Rato consisted essentially of copying engravings. When Paula e Oliveira intended to occupy the position of the Master, he highlighted that he attended drawing classes, paid at his own expense, outside of the learning experience at the Royal Factory.

D. João, Prince of Brazil. Royal Portrait Gallery. Francisco de Paula e Oliveira, 1799. Currently in the Palácio Galveias’ gardens, Lisbon. © ACM

In a letter associated with the same process, written in 1818, Paula e Oliveira makes it clear that, in addition to training in drawing, the tile painter should have an erudite knowledge:

First, it is necessary to study drawing with all its rules and precepts. Secondly, it is required to understand the Sacred and Profane histories, fables, natural history, both plant and animal worlds, of the three hemispheres, in order, with the correct knowledge, to satisfy the delineation of the different capriccios in the emblems or even by reforming them with additions or reductions to form the pleasant parts, according to the taste of who dictates them. In cases where none of this happens, it is always infallible to translate the outline to an expansive point in the limit of the frame it should occupy and the view it should have, in the place where the tiles are to be laid.

According to Paula e Oliveira, who clumsily mistook the number of hemispheres of the globe, basic training in drawing should be accompanied by the encyclopedic knowledge of sacred and profane history, of classical mythology and the fauna and flora of all continents. These two formative experiences would enable the tile painter to perform a capriccio, an Italian term that he uses in a broad sense to designate all types of landscapes or genre paintings, whether with a symbolic meaning or not.

From the painter’s point of view, it is also evident that drawing does not play a crucial role in the creative process but serves as an instrument of adaptation between the engraving and the dimensions of the architectural support.

In an unprecedented way, by valuing the status of the tile painter, Francisco de Paula e Oliveira emphasizes the importance and enormous variety of themes represented in the tiles. It is on the ability to present a great diversity of themes – such as landscapes, hunting, games, gallant parties, chinoiserie, fables, mythological scenes, emblems, and biblical episodes – that a good part of professional scholarship resides.

D. João Princepe do Brazil. Gaspar Frois (?), c. 1793. © Biblioteca Nacional Digital do Brasil.
D. João Princepe do Brazil. Gaspar Frois (?), c. 1793. © Biblioteca Nacional Digital do Brasil.


PEREIRA, João Castel-Branco. Cerâmica neoclássica em Portugal. Lisboa: Instituto Português de Museus, Museu Nacional do Azulejo.

Palácio Galveias, Lisbon

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