How is the blue made for these tiles?
These blues are made from cobalt and copper oxide and were applied to the tiles before they were fired.
Tell us more about cobalt. What is it? Can it generate a lot of different shades of blue?
Cobalt is a mineral, which can be found in several places across the globe. The amount of different elements at each source site can change the color, as well as other aspects such as how thick the paint is.
Cobalt is popular for ceramics because it remains blue when fired, not all blue pigments do.
Could you tell me more about what these tiles were made of?
Of course! These tiles are made from a type of ceramic body called "fritware". The recipe for fritware can vary but it typically includes clay and "frit", which is finely ground glassy substance often made from quartz. Potters add a "flux" which is an oxide used to lower the melting point of the frit. These tiles are decorated with blues made from the metal cobalt and from copper oxide.
What is fritware?
Fritware is a type of ceramic material similar to the ancient Egyptian faience. "Frit" is a finely ground, glassy substance often made from quartz. Potters add an oxide to the frit which functions as a "flux" and lowers the melting point of the frit. This mixture can then be melted into a more fluid state and formed into tiles or vessels like you see in our gallery.
Fritware is stronger than traditional clay meaning that it can produce a greater variety of forms with thinner and more decorative walls. Fritware is also naturally white which, of course, takes color much more easily than a brown, earthenware body.
What is the paint made from?
The dark blue color is made using cobalt, while the light blue color is from copper oxide. These pigments were painted onto the surface of the tiles, covered with a clear glaze, and then the tiles were fired.
Thanks. This is so cool.
You're welcome! The tiles themselves are made from a ceramic body called fritware, that includes clay and ground glassy quartz. The tiles have been glazed and fired to create the glassy surface you see.
Did this panel come to the museum before the civil war in Syria or was it salvaged from the conflict?
This panel entered our collection in 2002. The war began in 2011 and antiquities are not being exported from the region.
Thank you :)
Where was this piece of artwork found?
This panel of tiles is believed to be from Damascus, in modern day Syria, based on its style.
In Ottoman Damascus tiles like these were common decorations set into the walls of mosques as well as other buildings. There is a similar example of more abstractly decorative tiles on view inside of The Norm restaurant.
Why were these tiles popular?
That's a difficult question to answer as it was likely just a matter of taste and trend at the time. The tiles are made of the same material as Islamic ceramic vessels which were widespread and sometimes elaborately decorated.
It's easy to imagine that using the same material to decorate architectural structures would be an easy leap for artisans to make.
Would you happen to know what inspired this artist?
This artist took their inspiration from the writings of the Qur'an. This interpretation of the entrance to Paradise was a common motif for these tile panels from 17th century Damascus.
The plants that they chose to represent the garden are based on the kinds of trees that grow in the region. The arches are based on arches you might see in mosque architecture and the lamps you see hanging from the arches are the same type that would be used to light a mosque.