History of Facade Tiles in São Luís do Maranhão

The genesis of the azulejo goes back to the civilizations of the Near and Far East.

It was widely used as a decorative wall covering, especially in waterproofing masonry. It came to us from the Iberian Peninsula, especially from Portugal, which achieved great development between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries.

There, the adequacy of the tile to the architecture acquired a peculiar characteristic.

The maritime discoveries, allied to the Italo-Flemish influence, would progressively produce great transformations in Portuguese tiles.

Tiles and Facades of São Luís do Maranhão
Tiles and Facades of São Luís do Maranhão

In this work, historian Domingos Vieira Filho comments that in 1778 107.402 tiles arrived in São Luís.

Referrals tiling they must have probably been used as ashlars inside churches or residences, as the taste for tiling the facades of ground-floor dwellings and townhouses in Maranhão only began in the 1840s.

In the middle of the XNUMXth century, a “new way of using the tile appeared in Brazil, which made it leave the interior of churches, convents, palatial residences or buildings of official use, for the exterior” of the facades.

The external coating with tiles is widespread in coastal cities from north to south, especially Belém, São Luís, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre, among other cities with less frequent use of tiling facades.

In the XNUMXth century, the heyday of the Maranhão economy, tile was widely accepted as a material for covering facades, especially in properties that belonged to Portuguese mill owners and merchants, enriched by the production and export of cotton and rice.

This acceptance is attributed to the aesthetic improvement that the tile incorporates into the façades, while protecting them from the winter rains that occur for six months in the region.

In the XNUMXth century, an expressive number of carpet tiles with different patterns, manufactured using stamp technique, were imported from Portugal for use in the covering of the facades of the houses in São Luis.

Veja Colonial History and Architecture of São Luís do Maranhão e Tourist Points of São Luís do Maranhão – Tips and History

The trade treaty between Brazil and Portugal, dated in 1834, although allowing commercial transactions with other European countries, announced the preferential acquisition of tableware and
tiles to the Metropolis, not favoring the other production centers, which only on a very small scale sent their products to Maranhão.

From the middle of the XNUMXth century, when Maranhão enjoying its socioeconomic peak, tiles were properly used to protect and beautify the facades of urban houses, constantly subject to the predatory action of the intense rains that fall in the region.

According to Santos Simões, “it was from Brazil that the new fashion for façade tiles came to the old metropolis – a curious phenomenon of inversion of influences”.

Examples like the Rua Direita, 397, or from Rua do Ribeirão, 68 or even the one on the street Saint Pantaleon, 441 are remarkable because of the modulation with the architectural elements.

In the interval between 1843 and 1879, several ships arrived at the port of São Luís with a load of tiles, 90% from Lisbon, and the rest from the city of Porto.

São LuÃs also received, but in a much smaller quantity, tiles from France, Belgium and Germany.

The application of the tile covering on the façades is made totally, partially or in isolated ornaments.

Normally, tiling appears on the main façade (including the front of the belvederes), but some corner buildings also have the side façade with total or partial tiling.

The tiles covering the facades are carpet or smooth, made using stamping, decal, relief and marbled techniques.

Most patterns define the composition by repeating (rotating) four pieces, but there are patterns where the composition is defined in a single piece.

Most of the tiles that arrived in Maranhão have a format of 13,5 cm x 13,5 cm. The trims have dimensions around 6,75 cm x 13,5 cm (friezes), with a corner piece in the dimension 6,75 cm x 6,75 cm and borders measuring 13,5 cm x 13,5 cm.

When there was no specific corner piece for a particular trim, it was common to make a miter cut (45º) to adapt the orthogonal combination of the frieze.

Some tiling due to their geometric design structure, they allow variations in the composition of the rug.

In São Luís, the configuration or positioning of pieces “of tiles on the facades acquired peculiar characteristics due to the different ways of applying a standard unit, thus appearing different compositions of carpets of the same tile”.

The production of the manufactured tile depended on the technical resources available.

Thus, the chromatic and surface irregularities, resulting from the composition of the clay, manual skill in moulding, glazing and decorating, and control over firing, would only be overcome with mechanization.

The molding of the biscuit was done by pressing the clay into wooden molds. Dried in the shade and after a first batch, the biscuits were glazed with lead and tin oxide, turning the finishing surface white and opaque.

After being decorated, they were fired for a second time, during which the pigments and base enamel melted onto the surface.

Eventually a third soft burn might be necessary.

Subjected to temperatures of up to 1000°C, cracking and deformation were inevitable. Improvement was sought with slow and uniform burning and in the selection of clays capable of offering better performance to contractions and expansions resulting from sudden temperature variations.

The Industrial Revolution provided tile production on a commercially advantageous scale, contributing to the exhaustion of the artisanal process. Inks, prints and materials also began to be produced mechanically.

However, despite the importance of mechanization, the tiles manufactured in this way were never as fascinating as the manufactured ones, in which the irregularities or imperfections of each piece give them notorious particularity.

Interestingly, the greater the technological development, the smaller the aesthetic result of serial productions.

The tiles come in a variety of shapes, sizes, decorations and manufacturing techniques. They are made up of a support or biscuit and a finishing surface, flat or in relief, and adorned or not with decorative motifs.

Most of the tiles that arrived in Maranhão are 13,5cm x 13,5cm in size. Some are rectangular and beveled measuring 9,25cm x 18,5cm, or 11,8cm x 18,4cm.

The trims have two basic formats: with dimensions around 6,75cm x 13,5cm and a corner of 6,75cm x 6,75cm, or 13,5cm x 13,5cm and a corner with the same dimensions.

Apart from the stripes and figured panels, designed for specific locations, the vast majority of tiles are structured in isolated or grouped figures, through the decomposition of the square, into rectangles, triangles and circles.

They present ornamental schemes of Renaissance and Mannerist origin. In many cases the compositions result from the union of four identical pieces.

Others are completed in two pieces, with the ornament folded down to form a composition of four elements. Few have independent ornaments.

Some allow variations of compositions.

Among those of industrial production are mechanical stamping.

Others, rectangular ones, together with the curved angles, are also industrially produced in the middle of the last century. Some are revealed, possibly produced by Fábrica de Massarelos, in Porto, or by Fábrica das Devezas, in Vila Nova da Gaia.

Reliefs could be obtained by pressing clay into wooden negatives, or liquid clay into plaster molds.

see the work  BALCONIES IN SÃO LUÍS – GRADIS AND TILES e Facade Tiles of São Luís do Maranhão

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