A Brief History of Hand Made Terra Cotta Tile

Terra Cotta Glazed Tile Lion, Mesopotamia, 2800 BC

Terra Cotta Glazed Tile Lion, Mesopotamia, 2800 BC

Like a prized antique, quality hand made terra cotta tile transcends time and place...it will patina and age with your family...it will be a valued asset for your next generation to come.

Terra Cotta has been a medium of artistic expression and building material since the earliest periods of history.

In Mesopotamia 2800 B.C., terra cotta bricks and tiles were made for defensive city walls, floor coverings and wall decoration of important shrines.

Some archaeologists believe that the invention of firing clay into tiles and other art forms came simultaneously from the Chinese and the Sumerians from Mesopotamia (the region now known as Iraq.)

In Classical Greece, terra cotta first gained importance as an architectural material near 1200 B.C., when temples and other structures were enriched with terra cotta roof tiles, floor coverings and wall decorations.

By 575 B.C., terra cotta materials were used profusely throughout the Roman Empire, from building structures and decorative architectural elements to floor and wall tiles and pottery.

During the Middle Ages, Western Europe was in a restless slumber brought on by war, power struggles and illiteracy. But at the same time, sparks were igniting that would bring new styles of art and architecture and change the world. These Medieval Times saw castles, chivalry and the birth of Romance.

In the Middle Ages, bi-colored inlaid floor tiles were an essential part of the architecture and decoration in churches, castles and noble houses. These tiles were widespread in Northern Europe, particularly in France and England from the XII to the XVth century.

The Golden Age of terra cotta began around 1460 in Italy when Italians began developing a style based upon observation of "All" Antico". Also termed "In the Antique Taste" or the "Renaissance Style" - the Renaissance or the "rebirth" of art and beauty began, lifting away the dark veil of the Medieval Ages.

Thanks to Tuscan Merchants, having close commercial links with most of Europe, the dissemination of art and beauty based upon Greek and Roman aesthetics spread quickly. The Renaissance soon became a European endeavor with decorative tile making at its fore.

A Renaissance Time Table:

In the 1770's, although the North American Colonies gained its political independence from Britain, Americans developed their new country based upon the architecture from Classical Rome and Greece to Renaissance Italy and Victorian England. These European styles carried a strong tradition of using glazed and unglazed tile for building structure and decoration.

Predating this time, archaeologists recovered specimens of clay roofing and floor tiles from the 1585 settlement of Roanoke Island, North Carolina. Clay tile was also used in the early English Settlements in Gemstone, Virginia and St. Mary's Maryland. By 1650, Dutch Settlers established a full scale production of clay tiles in the Upper Hudson Valley shipping tiles south to New Amsterdam (New York).

Today in the 21st Century, the appreciation for hand made terra cotta tile is reaching a zenith. However, the standards of an exceptional hand made terra cotta tile can still remain a mystery to many. At Pave Tile & Stone, Inc., we bring to the American marketplace the most exceptional hand made terra cotta floor and wall tiles. The fabrication of our terra cotta tile - based upon historical production of the 14th to 17th centuries - means an unrivaled level of quality and beauty that will beautify one's decor and endure for generations.

Coutts, Howard, The Art of Ceramics European Ceramic Design 1500-1830; Yale University Press, New Haven, CT 2001

Lewis, Brenda Ralph, Great Civilizations: Dempsey Par Publications, UK 1999

Renet, Jean. "Le Carreau Medieval" (August 1995), France

Thorton, Peter, Form & Decoration Innovation in the Decorative Arts 1470-1870; Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Published, NY, NY 1998

Tunick, Susan. New York Landmarks Conservatory, Common Bond Vol 10, No.1, April 1994