New York Office - Italian Ceramic Tile Center
33 East 67th Street, New York, NY 10065

History of Tiles


Tile... An Italian Tradition


The use of Italian tile began in the Middle Ages when ceramic tile became a useful architectural medium for the decoration of walls and floors in religious and public building. The tiles, mostly hand decorated majolica, had their origin as a local handcraft. The local artisans, in turn borrowed from the hexagonal terracotta tiles prevalent in the late Roman Empire, and other medieval decorative tiles. By then, Islamic and Moresque tiles had also been introduced to Christian Europe. Italian majolica handcrafters developed new styles, adapted from those types, to fit the changing modes and patterns of interior deco-ration in both public and private buildings.

 


Tile by Cedit, Milano;
designer Ettore Sottsass,
1968. Wall tile

 


Tile by Appiani, Oderzo;
designer Pompeo Pianezzola,
1968. Wall tile

 

One of the first tile floors designed by a known artist, was in the chapel of S. Petronio in Bologna in 1487. It was designed by Pietro Andrea da Faenza and the use of the medium by him quickly became known. Afterwards tile usage spread rapidly in religious buildings, palaces and villas throughout Italy. In Southern Italy, artistic ceramic first was used in Sicily, during the Baroque period.

For the first time, tiles were used in the representation of large biblical and other historical scenes. By the beginning of the 19th century, large decorated scenes were no longer in use. The artistic and decorative energies of tile designers and installers become focused on the use of varying and repeating geometric patterns. Many of the design concepts and elements first used in that period remain prevalent today.


Tile by Richard Ginori, Milano;
designer Antonia Campi,
1972. Wall tile

 


Tile by Amica, Modena;
designer Marco Lanzoni,
1975. Wall tile

 

After its mass use during the Art Deco Period, ceramic tile became a product primarily manufactured in large industrial complexes. Additionally, because of technological advances, larger and thinner tiles were manufactured with greater strength and endurance. New manufacturing methods permitted the use of glazed floor tiles with high resistance to abrasion.
At the same time, decorative techniques, including hand decoration and silk-screening, evolved quite rapidly. It became virtually impossible to collect or even catalogue all the new designs. In the 1980's tiles had become, primarily, a mass manufactured, industrial product. Decorative styles had to adapt to the new production methods which emphasized economies of scale. However, the countervailing need for product diversity continues to maintain the artisans and artistry that was the core of the origin of the industry. The artistically and industrially vibrant tile industry continues as a source of pride and economic development for the region and for the country.