‏‏‎ 15th and 16th centuries – The Hispanic-Moresque Azulejo

First half of the 16th century

National Azulejo Museum

National Azulejo Museum
Lisbon, Portugal

Glazed mosaic pavements have been used in Portugal since the 13th century. They were made of plain coloured geometric pieces, as testified by the examples from the Monastery of Alcobaça and the Castle of Leiria. After the second half of the 15th century, pavings appeared of alfardons with losetas and bricks with rajolas, imported from Manises in Valencia, such as those applied in the Palace of the Infantes in Beja, or the Convent of Jesus in Setúbal. At the start of the 16th century the use of azulejos as a wall revetment became widespread, using patterns in the Hispano-Moresque techniques of corda-seca and aresta, produced in Seville and Toledo. So, Islamic culture was the first great reference for azulejos in Portugal, which lived on in future applications through the aesthetic taste conveying the horror vacui or "fear of the empty". The first major Portuguese commission of azulejos produced in Seville was made in 1503 by D. Jorge de Almeida (b.1458 - d.1543), Bishop of Coimbra, for the cathedral in this city. The Romanesque church, including the walls and the pillars, was entirely lined inside with azulejos simulating the presence of textile and architectural elements. Another important moment in the history of azulejos in Portugal in the early 16th century is the huge order placed by D. Manuel I (r. 1495-1521) in 1508, also with the Seville workshops, of azulejos for the palace he was remodelling in the town of Sintra. Azulejos from that commission can still be enjoyed today in many of the palace’s rooms and courtyards, in particular the examples with the armillary sphere, the emblem of this king. Commissions by the clergy and the nobility very often also included the use of heraldic motifs, such as the coat of arms of D. Jaime I (b.1479 - d.1532), fourth Duke of Bragança, composed of four rectangular ceramic plaques. In monumental applications such as those in Coimbra’s old Cathedral or Sintra Royal Palace (Sintra National Palace), Portuguese tile-layers reinvented the Sevillian matrices of applying azulejos, creating compositions of great visual effect, in perfect harmony with the architecture. Thus began the differentiating character of the use of azulejos in Portugal. Moving forward in the 16th century we realise that the motifs used to decorate the azulejos change gradually. After a first phase when these motifs, such as bows and geometric chains, were obviously of Islamic influence, we move on to a period when the decorative programmes employ initially Gothic and then Renaissance elements. Testimony to the fact that azulejo production adapted to the taste of the era, the new commissions from Seville included essentially vegetalist motifs, although zoomorphic elements and heraldry were also present. The use of the Hispano-Moresque techniques of corda-seca and aresta continued.


  • Title: ‏‏‎ 15th and 16th centuries – The Hispanic-Moresque Azulejo
  • Date Created: First half of the 16th century
  • Physical Location: MNAz, Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Lisbon, Portugal

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